Solar Panels and Campus Tours

A campus filled with solar panels shows prospective students more about the institution's willingness to lead than traditional marketing efforts, Josh Kim says.

November 1, 2017

Dear colleges,

You need to become champions of renewable energy. Here's why.

My hypothesis is that rooftop solar panels and college applications are highly correlated. That yield will track the percentage of power that your school gets from renewable energy. The campus tour, I believe, should be redesigned around sustainability, and every prospective student should see as many solar panels as possible.

Why do I believe this?

Happily, both my daughters are now ensconced at their schools of choice. But for three years (2014 to 2017), our lives were about college brochures (they are still coming) and campus tours. If our sample size of two is at all representative, I can report with confidence that almost all the marketing pitches that my daughters received from colleges were ineffective. The brochures, information sessions and campus tours are radically similar across diverse schools -- that is, they all blend together.

What my kids care about a great deal is sustainability. The causes and consequences of climate change seemed to be a central theme of their K-12 curriculum. They get excited about renewable energy.

Any school with a large and sustained commitment to renewable energy is going to stand out to prospective students. Solar panels are a differentiator, a physical manifestation of a school’s values and priorities. They are glass-and-steel representations of what a school believes -- tangible, solid, physical evidence that a college or university is forward-looking and future-oriented, which is critical if you want to catch the attention of potential applicants.

Colleges should not limit their thinking of solar to a pure cost-benefit calculation. Rather, they should think of solar panels as signals of long-term thinking and an orientation toward what’s coming next. Solar panels on a campus are like a Tesla car in a driveway. The owner is buying much more than an alternative to fossil fuels.

A campus with lots and lots of prominent solar panels is saying that it is willing to lead -- and that the future is already here.

Are solar panels on your campus tour?

(This open letter perhaps belongs in the “Admissions Insider” newsletter, as opposed to “Inside Digital Learning.” So pass along to your friends in the admissions department.)


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