Miami Dade College is the largest and most diverse higher ed institution in the U.S., serving a community as large as the state of Rhode Island. It has 175,000 students and offers more than 300 academic degree programs. Despite its large student body, MDC could serve even more students, so it spends thousands of dollars each year on marketing via the web, radio, and newspaper to attract new applicants.
Television advertising was determined to be the most effective means of reaching such an expansive community throughout the day, including those without access to or the skills needed to navigate the internet for information. Still, the high production costs and air time rates are cost-prohibitive. Until 2003, the college had never run TV ads. But administrators began exploring whether MDC could broadcast content over the local community access channel during the day. Doing so would provide a way to reach the 500,000-household viewing audience while also giving its students majoring in television production a means of practicing their newly-acquired skills and building their professional reel.
That year, the School of Entertainment and Design Technology (SEDT) took over operation of the cable access channel.
In 2006, however, the county withdrew all financial support for the station and planned to shut it down completely. Spotting an opportunity, MDC proposed assuming all responsibility for the operation of the channel and created MDC-TV, explains Jose Vicente, campus president. In doing so, MDC was granted use of the broadcast bandwidth and air time from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. The equivalent cost of 14 hours of air time, seven days a week could be anywhere from $1 million to $4 million, says Vicente. “There is no way the college would be able to foot the bill to have programming produced professionally and aired for the number of hours MDC-TV broadcasts annually,” he explains.
Since taking over the station six years ago, MDC has purchased new television production equipment to support its academic programs and converted the analog TV studio to 100-percent digital, high-definition format. New cameras, studio lighting, a switchboard, sound board, and teleprompter equipment all became MDC-TV resources. Additionally, its video-on-demand and live-stream website enable the college to reach audiences on a global scale. Perhaps because of this major investment, Miami Dade County has become the Spanish-speaking TV production capital, where novellas and other Spanish-language programming now originate.
Each semester, six students are selected to participate in the MDC-TV practicum course, working along with the station’s professional staff to produce all programming, both in-house and on location. They are given a $500 stipend for their work, which comes out of the $36,000 annual MDC-TV production budget.
While the primary purpose of MDC-TV initially was to enhance marketing efforts, a secondary benefit has emerged. “We’ve seen a significant increase in applications to the TV production program,” says Vicente. “It has been a stupendous investment.”