Monthly Archives: July 2014

July 28, 2014

Seeking Comparative University Data

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Every year, colleges submit a list of “peer comparison” schools through the Department of Education in order to compare their institutional statistics and rankings with named schools. Back in 2012, The Chronicle of Higher Education published an interactive infographic to illustrate which schools were on each other’s lists. The results of the data analysis showed that many schools are checking out their peers, but also looking towards their higher education role models.

Some conclusions reached by the Chronicle of Higher Education include:

  • The typical college selected a comparison group of 16 colleges with a higher average SAT score and graduation rate than its own, lower acceptance rate, and larger endowment, budget, and enrollment.
  • The eight Ivy League colleges among them chose only 12 institutions outside their own number as peers—not surprisingly, often including the University of Chicago, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stanford University.
  • 55 colleges outside of the Ivy League selected at least one member of that group for comparison. Some of those colleges, such as Tufts University and New York University, are rich private research institutions.
  • The 107 most intensive research universities, as classified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, also tended to choose one another as peers. Among them they selected only 65 institutions outside their number as peers, while 234 other colleges chose one of those intensive-research institutions.

In analyzing the data, it is clear that many of these institutions don’t consider these lists to be true “peer” studies. Receiving this data is an opportunity to peek into the world of their more successful competitors. Heather Ann Kelly, director of the Office of Institutional Research at Delaware, says “If you took a look at your actual peers, the likelihood is that you stand up pretty well with them,” Ms. Kelly says. “In order to make progress, you want to be shedding light on not just your strengths, but also your weaknesses.”

Another way to analyze your own school’s data is to employ a robust data reporting software such as AMP Paperless Admissions. AMP compiles admissions data and can generate customized reports for information such as demographics, admissions rates, GPA, test scores, and more.



July 23, 2014

University of California Logo Redesign Controversy

In 2013, the University of California rolled out a modernized logo developed by an in-house design team. It was a minimalist design, featuring a “C” nested inside a shield-shaped “U” and featuring bright, bold colors.


This lighthearted new logo was meant to be used in marketing and website capacities, while the traditional university crest would remain on official school documentation and letterheads.  “They wanted something that would reflect the innovation, the character of California — just more modern, user-friendly,” said Dianne Klein of UC’s Office of the President. “That’s not to take away from the gravitas of the original seal.” Fast Company praised the redesign, saying that the new logo had “surfer charm.”  To quote the school, it is “boldly Californian.” According to the Creative Director, Vanessa Correa, “It’s meant to be scalable, flexible, dynamic, and adaptable; something that would let us talk to our diverse audiences while maintaining recognizability.”

However, the implementation of the new logo did not go as smoothly as the creative team at University of California expected. Backlash and criticism came almost immediately. People started saying that the logo reminded them of a loading icon, a flushing toilet, that it was unprofessional, ugly, childish, trendy, and amateurish. An online petition was started in protest of the new logo, demanding that it be taken down – the petition received more than 54,000 signatures.

The backlash became more extreme as members of the creative team were targeted with insults and threats, a point that was addressed by the creators of the petition, “The vitriol and personal attacks being sent to some of the team that helped to design the new monogram is not okay. They care deeply about the university and are greatly invested in ensuring its success. They don’t deserve anger, threats and insults directed at them.” In an open letter to UC President Udof, Gavin Newsom, a member of the Board of Regents at UC, stated:

“Clearly the new logo for the University, even in its limited use, has backfired… it appears the new logo fails to respect the history and the prestige of University of California En [sic] only a few days, almost 50,000 students, alumni and Californians across the state believe so strongly that the logo fails to represent the institution they are so proud of, they have signed a petition calling for its removal… It bears noting that tuition at the University of California has more than doubled in recent years…Perhaps now is the time to return to the use of the old logo and allow the University community a cooling off period to concentrate on the long-term health of the University.”

In response to the petition and the widespread media attention as a result of the backlash, the University of California has backpedaled and removed the new logo from all web, marketing, and merchandise. In a statement, Jason Simon, the director of UC marketing communications stated;

“UC Community, Over the past week it has become clear that the University of California systemwide monogram recently created is a source for great debate, dialogue, and division. In short, it’s too much of a distraction from our broader effort to communicate UC’s value and vital contributions to Californians, and so we intend to suspend use of the new monogram…  there are a few things that remain clear—the UC community is passionate in its support of the system as a whole, believes any new directions should reflect the tradition, prestige and import of both higher education broadly…We commit to respecting that feedback in determining a path forward as these issues are revisited.”

So, the new logo is gone and the dissenters have won. What can other schools learn from this debacle?

  • First, schools should keep in mind that any sweeping rebranding project will face intense scrutiny from alumni, students, and the design community.
  • Second, logos for higher education shouldn’t aim to be fun, modern, or lighthearted – this doesn’t work well for an institution that also attempts to be timeless, serious, and prestigious.
  • Third, changing a logo in a drastic manner will have drastic consequences. Instead, schools can look to nip & tuck their current logos so that they are adaptable for implementation at a variety of sizes. The biggest mistake that UC made was to seemingly abandon a logo that already had over 100 years of history, emotions, and context behind it.
July 1, 2014

Adjusting to post-recession realities in higher education

For the past 10 years, college enrollment rates have been on a roller coaster ride. With record high enrollment rates followed by record drops in enrollment, it’s no wonder that some schools are struggling with staying on budget and fully enrolled amidst a sluggish post-recession economy.

In 2008, enrollment rates for people aged 18-24 grew to a record high of 40%.  This enrollment boost was the result of the convergence of several factors. First, a population spike meant that a record number of students (3.3 million) graduated in 2007, then a higher percentage of those students proceeded directly to college, and finally the economic downturn and labor market crash meant a greater motivation for high school graduates to earn a degree. According to a Pew trend report, the majority of this enrollment boom was made up of minority students attending community colleges, reflecting both a demographic shift in the population and the deterioration in the earning power of teens and young adults.

Colleges and universities had nothing to complain about when they experienced a sudden increase in applicants in 2008. When a school receives more applications, they can also reject more applicants, which helps to boost rankings because the school then appears more selective.

Unfortunately, the 2008 enrollment boom was just a flash in the pan. The landscape has changed drastically during the Great Recession.

Six years later, colleges are struggling with issues of under-enrollment and the prospect of more lean years in the future. The applicant pool began to shrink after the big rush to school in 2007-8. The shrinking applicant pool is proving to be a long-term trend. After the huge size of the 2007 high school class,  K-12 classrooms are showing a downward growth trend. This downward growth is exacerbated by the state of the economy. “Enrollment tends to level off or fall when the economy is improving,” says Terry Hartle of the American Council on Education. “Given how much enrollment surged during the economic downturn, a reduction was inevitable.” Within these smaller applicant pools, colleges and universities will be competing fiercely to attract those students who have to ability to pay in full.

In addition to the demographic trends at play, a value shift is also taking place in reaction to the shaky economy. As reported in the results of a Sallie Mae and Ipsos Survey on Inside Higher Ed, people are now less willing to page huge sums of money for schooling. Sarah Ducich, one of the study’s authors, concludes, “The study highlighted that since the economic downturn in 2008, higher education consumers have been more receptive to lower cost alternatives such as community colleges or colleges closer to home in order to avoid the cost of living on campus… Even though college costs continue to increase, the amount that families are spending is holding steady, meaning they’re making choices in a mostly cost-conscious construct…”

These gloomy trends are not necessarily going to impact every school; some programs are so desirable and their endowments so large that they might never see a substantial drop off in profits. Smaller private schools, on the other hand, are already feeling the pinch. Private colleges are generally more expensive, dependent upon tuition revenues, with less name recognition, smaller endowments, and narrower profit margins. As a result, smaller schools are already having trouble covering budgets and enrollment goals.

Some schools are getting ahead of the problem with cost cutting and revenue-building measures:

With demographics against schools and consumers less likely to accept continued tuition hikes, there are rumblings of a sea change in higher education. Houghton University President Shirley Mullen spoke commented, “I don’t believe there is any going back… I think whatever happens going forward is something different than we’ve seen before.”