A Content Analysis of College and University Viewbook (Brochures)

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Abstract

In the competitive environment in which colleges and universities operate, many are utilizing marketing strategies to attract students and distinguish themselves from other institutions. One of the primary tools for student recruitment and image development is the

viewbook or brochure which provides a first look at institutions. The purpose of this study was to systematically examine the content and components of such publications. The results also indicate the type of image that colleges and universities are seeking to portray. Institutions of higher education will be able to compare their publication with these findings and gain guidance for making improvements.

"During the 1980s, the number of graduating high school seniors declined by 10 percent" (Dunn 1994). This was the so-called "baby bust" and it was the impetus for institutions of higher education to consider the design and implementation of a marketing strategy. America's colleges and universities had been forced by the shrinking numbers of traditional students and state funds to undertake a more active recruitment process. Admissions professionals no longer were performing the role of gatekeeper; they were transformed into market analysts, enrollment specialists, and planners. "Colleges and universities are relying increasingly on marketing innovations to solve the problem of too many schools and not enough incoming students" (Hebel 1993). Now, even though the "echo boom" (children of "baby boomers") began entering colleges and universities in 1995, institutions of higher education have not diminished marketing -related activities. Traditionally, when students applied to college the recruitment process began. Today, the application process is not the first step. Institutions are often doing research first, identifying desirable students, and then aggressively persuading those students that an institution is the best choice for meeting their needs and wants. One important aspect of a marketing mindset is each school is forced to clarify its mission as an institution and to identify whom it wants to serve (Kotler and Fox 1985).

Many colleges and universities are compelled to carry out an admissions strategy plan because there are too few applicants or they would like to increase the quality of applicants (Hoffman 1997). In the past, institutions of higher education chose to focus on their name and believed they did not compete for students. Because educational institutions are in competition for resources, they must use existing assets to greatest advantage. Some of these assets include: program quality, program uniqueness, price, convenience, reputation, etc. (Kotler and Fox 1985). "In today's competitive drive to attract the most talented students, colleges must use a variety of assets as direct advertising tools. One of the most salable and viable assets to collegiate marketing strategy is the school's image" (Timberlake 1990). It is imperative for colleges and universities to distinguish themselves from others and to understand their strengths and weaknesses. They are learning how to capitalize on strengths and minimize weaknesses. Every educational institution holds a "position" in the minds of those who have seen or know about the institution. A market position is how an institution is perceived in the mind of the public relative to competition. It is important to position an institution correctly in the market. Research will reveal an institution's current position, and it may then be determined if a change is necessary. Determining the desired position leads to a focus on how to create that image in the minds of consumers (students), parents, legislators, alums, and the public at large.

As the "echo boom" entered college and university classrooms in 1995, it has become apparent that this generation of students is characterized by greater diversity, racially and ethnically, and will provide a challenge to educational marketers. …