City College | New York, NY
For 120 years, City College stood proud as New York’s academically elite and affordable college “for the whole people.” Since losing part of its autonomy to adoptive parent CUNY, however, City also lost its message–but not the original City purpose.
To stand out among both CUNY brethren and across the NYC landscape, City needed to assert its unchanging relevance–not to its umbrella system, but to the determined New Yorkers who had always made the most of their City.
Founded in 1847 as America’s first free institution of higher education, City College opened its doors as one of the nation’s great democratic experiments. But with the advent of open enrollment in 1970 and umbrella-organization CUNY’s increased role in governance, City’s flagship reputation—and sense of unique identity—became a bit muddled. With the exception of a few niche programs like architecture and engineering, this once-famed College faded from the forefront of New Yorkers’ minds.
Once-proud and generous alums tightened their purse strings, while prospective students increasingly viewed City as a safety option rather than a first choice.
As City College harkened back to the past—touting their 11 Nobel Laureates and heralded alumni like Jonas Salk and Colin Powell—the rest of New York wondered what City College could bring to the future.
Our strategy: Don’t simply recapture the City of the past, but assert City College’s unchanging relevance today. From its inception through its heyday, those who excelled at City—including those 11 Nobel Laureates—shared one common trait: they were strivers. Motivated, ambitious, hard-working, diverse, and gritty intellectuals-in-the-making.
Today’s City students were born of the same ilk. They possessed the same will and wherewithal to convert a sliver of opportunity into a lifetime of success. So we branded the transformative outcome of what happens when the City student—the striver—seizes the opportunity afforded by City College, reanimating the institution’s inspiring legacy by linking it to the present’s equally impressive accomplishments. That approach could prove equally potent to alumni, donors, and prospective students alike.
City College continued to serve as the city’s College—still opening doors to strivers and meeting New York’s evolving needs as its original public university. For alumni who counted themselves among those “City originals,” the donor piece’s ruled notebook and clipboard—complete with freshly sharpened pencil—transported them back to their own college days not for the purpose of nostalgia, but to evoke the moment of greatest potential success as they arrived at City with little more than bare essentials and their own determination.
School-specific pieces—used for both fundraising and recruitment purposes—united the College’s varied academic paths under a consistent City College umbrella, while differentiating each School from strong local competitors. One and all, they tout today’s City successes, reinforcing City’s continued relevance for the next generation of strivers, students who come from different backgrounds and different parts of the world, but who share the all-important “striver DNA.”
For prospective students—New York originals in their own right—new materials targeted the pragmatic striver by highlighting City’s proud legacy of extending opportunity to those willing to do the work while simultaneously proving the relevance and value of a City College degree today. Here—and only here—students benefited from this 160-year tradition carried forward, joined a roll of highly accomplished and influential alumni, and shaped their own dynamic future among a student body and faculty as diverse as New York itself.
Only two years into the new CRANE program, City College generated city-wide interest far beyond the already unique engineering and architecture schools. Enrolled student SAT scores increased by 50 points and donor gifts flooded in, far surpassing fundraising goals.
What’s more, both long-time faculty members and recent hires lauded the school’s new messaging, reporting that it provided greater cohesion around the College’s mission and attracted prominent professors and scholars to the College. City College continued to build off the newly generated momentum in launching capital projects, one of which established the Colin Powell School for Social Thought and Public Purpose.