Colleges selling out

Dec. 31, 1969, 7 p.m. | By Annie Peirce | 51 years ago

For colleges, marketing and recruiting often synonymous

With students across America spending hundreds of dollars on admissions and preparation classes for SAT tests and writing favorable college essays, it is comforting to know that colleges are spending even more than the students in selling themselves.

The boundaries between recruiting and marketing waver as colleges and universities spend millions of dollars to mail millions of colorful pamphlets and letters. Often simply shoved into baskets or corners, these products of the increasing college advertising storm are part of higher education's ideal marketing cycle: attract the most talented and gifted applicants to their school so that their U.S. News and World Report college ratings will increase so they can attract more talented and gifted applicants.

Dickinson College paid Silver Chips $200 for a full-page advertisement featuring "Dickinson College: Engage the World" in the latest print edition of the paper. Silver Chips sponsor, John Mathwin, said the Pennsylvania college was "very anxious" to have their space in the paper early in the school year.

David Kirp and Jeffrey Holman reported in The American Prospect on October 7, 2002, a specific example of the mania surrounding college marketing. Following extensive focus group research, Pennsylvania liberal arts college, Beaver College, renamed itself Arcadia College in Nov. 2000.

The president of Vermont's Marlboro College, Paul J. LeBlanc, hired Mindpower Inc. after learning about the company's reputation for making clever, eye-catching campaigns. "We thought they would have the ability to punch through the white noise," Mr. LeBlanc told The Chronicle of Higher Education. "There are so many generic-looking pieces out there, all showing racially diverse student bodies--like something straight out of a Benetton ad--as well as students studying under trees on a sunny day. We wanted something that looked different."

Examples of college marketing are further evidence of the increasing focus on profits when recruiting students applying for colleges. According to a USA Today article, "Minds over money: Complex college admissions getting more commercial, Prep services cash in on families" fears about future," the well known student resource College Board was founded in 1990 by a not-for-profit group to "encourage equity in college admissions." In 1999 as it is known today was launched as a $30 million for-profit website.

College placement consultants complained to USA Today about how College Board's decision to switch from nonprofit to profit "underscores everything that has gone wrong with a once-dignified and logical process, from the rise of the test-preparation industry to the creation of college marketing departments and through to the hysteria surrounding the process among some families today." They credit this degradation of the college search process to the launching of the U.S. News and World Report rankings in 1983 that "treated higher education like a commodity, not much different from buying a car or stereo."

Extensive college marketing often over-generalizes or misrepresents the characteristics of campus students. According to a 1999 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, students at the University of Chicago held a "fun-in" during spring of 1998 to protest a new marketing campaign they thought "too hip." A satirical tabloid handed out at the event predicted a strong decrease in the enrollment of "nerds" by 2005.

Wesleyan University in Connecticut referred to itself as "The Independent Ivy" in a 1998 recruiting slogan. To oppose the campaign, students hung posters and set up a lemonade stand outside the admissions office to share their views with prospective students. The college withdrew its new Ivy campaign a month later.

Tags: print

Annie Peirce. Annie Peirce is a senior in the Communications Arts Program and the public relations manager for Silver Chips. She is also an opinions editor for Silver Chips Online. She was born on October 25, 1984, in a hospital somewhere in Prince George's County; but doesn't … More »

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