Update on college marketing

Update on college marketing November 17, 2017

So we’ve finally made it past the college application process, coached my son through essays, made some campus visits, clicked “submit” 4 times, and are now waiting for the fat envelopes (or, yes, the virtual equivalent thereof) to come with my son’s name on them.

But I wanted to share with you three items that came in the mail recently:

University of Chicago mailing
University of Chicago mailing

This is just one of many mailings from the University of Chicago.

Now, I have nothing against this university, but we did get mailings with a surprising frequency, especially since my son’s first try at the SAT wasn’t earth-shattering and the improved results from his second time around came after we’d already gotten a number of such mailings.  Besides which, even his second SAT score is below their 25th percentile, so he hardly seems like a top candidate for them.

But this is where I’m cynical.  He might not have a prizewinning SAT, but I suspect that they’re looking at more than that.  I  wouldn’t be surprised if they’re targeting him based on other demographic factors — that is, his zip code, in an upper middle class town, or even the specific neighborhood of his street address, which, while it’s no Lake Forest or Glencoe, still means there’s a pretty decent chance of your mailer hitting a family that could pay full freight.  I further wouldn’t be surprised if they paired that up with our credit rating as another element indicating our ability to pay full-freight.  (Though, if they data-mined a bit more, you’d think they could figure out that we’re also the sort that aren’t willing to pay that sticker price.)

University of Illinois Springfield
University of Illinois Springfield

The “regional” universities in Illinois have been experiencing a major drop in enrollment over the past decade, with drops of 20% – 40% (the only exception being SIU – Edwardsville).  But the University of Illinois system is growing in enrollment:  10% at the Urbana-Champaign campus, 18% at the University of Illinois – Chicago, and 14% at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

What’s the University of Illinois at Springfield?  Yeah, I’d be surprised if you’d heard of it.  It’s a young university, established only in 1969, and a part of the University of Illinois only since 1995.  Up until 2005, enrollment was limited to upperclassmen and graduate students.  It enrolls 3,400 undergraduates and 2,000 graduate students, almost all in master’s programs, a far cry from the 29,000 at UIC and the 47,000 at U of I.  It has only two dorms and one cafeteria, unlike the myriad of options elsewhere.  And it’s main marketing approach:  you’ll get a “U of I degree” — that is, there’s a good chance that future employers or networking contacts might not know the difference between the University of Illinois, and the University of Illinois at Springfield, and will consider you as having attended the more prestigious Big 10 school.  Plus, Illinoisians generally have more confidence that the legislature will fund the Universities of Illinois than the “regional” universities (and, especially, the university that’s in Springfield itself); hence, the exodus from the latter schools.

And it’s an appalling waste of money, to have the facilities of the regional universities sit empty while the Universities of Illinois embark on building programs, all because the legislature can’t get its act together and the universities can’t, or won’t, cooperate.

University of Missouri
University of Missouri

Yes, earlier in the fall, and over the summer, conservative outlets schadenfreudishly reported of the massive enrollment decline at Mizzou, following student anti-racist protests resulting in the resignation of the university president in capitulation to student demands.  And based on the postcard that arrived several days ago trumpeting the ease with which out-of-state students can obtain Missouri residency, and correspondingly reduced tuition ($11,000 vs. $26,600), I’m going to guess that applications and interest are still low.

Remember back when I wrote about the massive enrollment drop at the Detroit Public Schools, and the fact that, however positive schools of choice and options for families might be, the school system is nonetheless facing substantial problems due to legacy costs?  At the university level, too, well, it’s a good thing, I suppose, when universities which are well-run win in the “enrollment competition” against those with poor management, poor academic standards, low value for money, and so on.  But the waste of resources — of buildings which sit empty at some universities while others go on expansion sprees — is still unsettling.


(Featured image:  University of Illinois; public domain)

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