Friday five: college wranglings

It’s that time of year again: students returning to class, and U.S. News & World Report‘s annual rankings of America’s “best” colleges. Campus admissions officers, deans, presidents, faculty and PR folks across the nation are now scrutinizing the lists, comparing where they fall on the list to the rankings of their competitors, wondering why they slipped or rose in a certain category and lamenting the unjustness of a system that would exclude their institution from, say, the “best values” list. No doubt factions at every university in the nation — other than Princeton, that is — will spend hours critiquing the U.S. News methodology today.
So, before I begin my earnest investigation into how my employer rose from No. 51 in last year’s ranking of best engineering programs to 48 this year but dropped from No. 109 to 112 among national universities, let’s see what the blogosphere and mainstream media have to say about the rankings:

  1. From Tony’s Kansas City, an opinion about the tie in the rankings between two Big 12 universities known for their “border wars” in sports: Equally worthless schools tie in meaningless list.
  2. U.S. News rankings: What they mean for RIT is a post from a PR staffer at Rochester Institute of Technology. It’s a valiant attempt to make sense of the whole rankings hubbub and offer some perspective. “The U.S. News report is only one list and should be put into context with many other variables when determining the reputation and prestige of any university.” That’s pretty much our standard line, too.
  3. An op-ed piece from Ohio State’s student newspaper comparing OSU’s U.S. News ranking from last year (60th) with its No. 27 designation in yet another publication’s list. The op-ed piece wrongly asserts that “U.S. News’ much maligned college ranking system is based solely on academic quality.” It is not. Reputation, exclusivity, fund-raising and other factors come into play in the U.S. News rankings, too.
  4. Look beyond ‘U.S. News’ for college quality, an opinion piece by John A. Roush, president of Centre College, who criticizes U.S. News and other rankings organizations for relying on “flawed research methodology and inaccurately reported data.” He adds: “My real worry about the rankings and the guides is that they are based almost exclusively on ‘inputs’ — the size of a college’s endowment, for example, or the percentage of Ph.D.s on the faculty, or the median GPA of incoming freshmen. Such quantitative criteria, while important, say nothing about what actually takes place when a student attends and graduates from your institution.”
  5. Only in Chicago: Recount helps university rise in magazine’s ranking.

Feds investigate ‘fake news’ (aka VNRs)

In a move that could spell trouble for purveyors of video news releases (VNRs), the Federal Communications Commission is investigating 77 TV stations about whether they “failed to tell viewers about the sponsors behind corporate video releases presented as news, a practice criticized by watchdog groups who say showing ‘fake news’ is an illegal breach of trust with local communities” (Mediaweek story, via FlackLife, who doesn’t like VNRs).

Jonathan Adelstein of the FCC says: “The public has a legal right to know who seeks to persuade them so they can make up their own minds about the credibility of the information presented. Shoddy practices make it difficult for viewers to tell the difference between news and propaganda.”

So where does the fault lie? With the news organizations, or with the PR agencies and offices that send them out? We’ve used VNRs a few times, but with mixed results. Small-market TV stations that don’t have the staff to travel the 60-100 miles to our campus to cover an event appreciate the footage. Big-city stations will have nothing to do with them.
These days, we don’t even try. We’ve concluded that VNRs just aren’t worth the time and energy they require. When we send out news releases to TV stations and have some video available, we let them know. But usually if they want to do the story, they send their own crews.

Over the past year, we’ve been setting up accounts and posting promotional video on all the high-profile video sites (YouTube, MySpace, Google Video and Current TV) and on our video website.
How about you? How do you get video out to the masses?

Great thinkers in modern marketing

Dana VanDen Heuvel is looking for some names for his 50 greatest thinkers in modern marketing project. He’s planning to do a post on each of the great thinkers on his blog. Sounds like a fascinating project. He’s already listed the few who came to my mind (Philip Kotler, Seth Godin, Ries and Trout). Any ideas? Post ’em here.

Failure to re-launch? Or ‘subtle evolution’?

Should organizations make a big deal about doing a major overhaul and re-launch of their web sites? Jared Spool, a usability design engineer who blogs at UIE Brain Sparks, thinks organizations would be better off making incremental change. In The Quiet Death of the Major Re-Launch, he writes that over his 10 years of work with web design, “if we’ve learned anything, it’s that redesigns rarely improve a site.”

“At best,” he writes, a redesign “just rearranges the elements. At worst, it frustrates the existing, loyal users without bringing anything valuable to all those new users the site is trying to attract.”

Spool wrote about this way back in 2003 (that was two re-launches ago for UMR) and urged organizations to consider “subtle evolution” as a way to incorporate changes on websites. He pointed out a few high-profile, real-world examples — Amazon, Yahoo and eBay — that have all benefited from this philosophy.

Friday Five: higher ed’s future, web buzzwords, the blogging boom, and garage rock

Five things on my mind this Friday:

  1. What’s really going to happen with the recommendations put forth in the Commission on the Future of Higher Education’s final draft (pdf)? The report calls for “a broad shake-up” (as The New York Times put it) of the U.S. higher ed system. But the report is a far cry from Chairman Charles Miller’s desire for a “punchy report that would rattle academia with warnings of crisis”; a number of educational groups are criticizing the report; and the lone dissenter on the 19-member panel, American Council of Education President David Ward, is getting considerable mileage out of his contention that the report is one-sided. At least one blogger — ePluribus Media — suggests the report is “just what the Chair (read: Secretary) ordered.” If you don’t have time to read the full report, read the Times article, and maybe take a gander at ePluribus Media’s commentary about the report.
  2. Web what-dot-evah. Morgan Davis’ erelevant blog is brand new, but he’s off to a great start. His recent post, Buzzword 2.0, takes a lot of us to task for tossing “web 2.0” around in conversations and on our blogs (guilty). His advice: “let’s work on using alternative words and phrases to describe the concepts that we mean by web 2.0.”
  3. 50 million blogs, 18.6 posts per second. Just a few of the fun facts Dave Sifri, the founder of Technorati, shares in his latest state of the blogosphere report. With lots and lots of colorful charts.
  4. Speaking of buzzwords … Here’s a new one for you: clique-through. According to this blog review of a presentation on marketing with social media, it means: “The degree to which an exclusive group hears and accepts your idea. Cliques are built upon norms and group culture. To be accepted means to be built into that culture. To be effective, focus on the clique, not the wide audience.” You heard it here first.
  5. Now playing: Runaway Bombshell, by the Fondas. Great Detroit garage rock for a Friday morning’s blog reading.


Web 2.0 on the agenda for CASE conference

As co-chair for next month’s CASE Annual Conference for Senior Communications and Marketing Professionals, I’m thrilled with the lineup of web 2.0 topics on the agenda.

Those of us who do PR and marketing for colleges and universities need to pay more attention to how web 2.0 is changing the nature of our jobs. So I’m glad to see CASE (that’s the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education) taking web 2.0 issues seriously.

My co-chair (Lynette Brown-Sow of the Community College of Philadelphia) and I have worked hard to recruit some of the top experts in online communication and marketing for this conference. The faculty for the three-day session (Sept. 13-15 in Philadelphia) include:

  • Karine Joly of the popular blog on marketing, PR and the web, Karine is also a web editor for a liberal arts school on the East Coast and writes for University Business magazine. She’s taken time out of her busy schedule to do a couple of sessions during the conference.
  • Joe Hice, associate vice president of marketing and public relations for the University of Florida. Joe and his staff at Florida are doing some creative things with marketing and the web, and he brings a corporate marketing background to the job. He’ll be co-presenting with Karine Joly on some web 2.0 stuff and also sharing some marketing lessons from the corporate world.
  • A couple of real live bloggers from the Philly area: Daniel Rubin, a Philadelphia Inquirer journalist-turned-blogger who writes about pop culture, politics, technology and anything with a Philadelphia connection in his Blinq blog, and Dave Ralis, another refugee from journalism who blogs about sports for, contributes to the community blog PhillyFuture, and occasionally posts at his personal blog. I’ll be joining these two guys for a fun panel discussion about the morphing of blogging and journalism.

Those are just a few of the folks who will be presenting. We’ve also got great speakers on marketing (such as Larry Lauer of Texas Christian University), crisis communications and the Solutions for Our Future initiative to promote the value of higher education.

This promises to be a terrific conference, with lots of time for discussion, interaction and learning from each other as well as from our presenters. If you haven’t already signed up, you should do so now. Or if you have any questions about the conference or any of the sessions, feel free to email me: andrew DOT careaga AT gmail DOT com.

Giving voice to student bloggers

Furman University has been receiving many kudos in higher ed marketing circles for their innovative use of the web. See this summary of Furman’s work, presented at EduWeb 2006, to bring you up to speed.

But what I really love about Furman is their hands-off approach to student bloggers who keep online journals for the school’s Engage Furman admissions site. Consider this post from a former Furman student, who decided to transfer. In an entry sure to make most admissions officers and college presidents squirm, he explains his reasons for posting this news on his journal:

Why did Furman put these freshman journals online? Surely not as another method pro-Furman propaganda, encouraging you to jump on the first flight over here because there is no other college worth going to. That’s for the rest of the site to tell you. No, it’s our job to give you a firsthand experience, to cut through the gleam and glamor you see on the admissions website and give you both the diamonds and the muck hidden underneath. In other words, we have to give you the good, the bad, and the ugly.

How many other schools would have the guts to allow this post to go live? How many would dare to give voice to a student who was leaving? Hats off to Furman for setting the bar high, for keeping it real, and for valuing the authenticity of voice.