State schools try to boost enrollment through ads

April 01, 2006|By LIZ BOWIE | LIZ BOWIE,SUN REPORTER

The University of Baltimore has never tried to attract the typical high school student looking for four years of self-discovery on a leafy campus.

Instead, UB students "are older. They are working, and lots of them are paying for their own education," says Peter Toran, a university vice president. "We are a campus for students who know what they want."

UB is spending more than a half-million dollars to promote that image in a multimedia campaign that includes television spots featuring a graduate student struggling to keep her work and extracurricular activities under control and still make A's.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Saturday's editions incorrectly reported when the University of Baltimore will begin accepting freshmen. The university will admit its first freshman class in the fall of 2007.
The Sun regrets the errors.

The university, founded in 1925, was a private four-year institution until it became part of the University System of Maryland in 1975. UB had an unusual role in the state system, offering the final two years of undergraduate study to students who spent their first two years at a community college or other four-year college.

This fall, UB is adding freshmen and sophomores to its commuter campus just south of Baltimore's Penn Station. It is hoping to increase enrollment by about 2,200 to 7,000 students over the next several years, including an additional 1,000 graduate students.

UB isn't the only university in the state looking to attract more applicants. Morgan State University and Towson University are also spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on television and radio spots and print ads to get prospective students to notice them.

"Higher education is a very competitive enterprise," said William E. Kirwan, the university system chancellor. He said more colleges across the country are running image campaigns. "There are all these different ways of rating and ranking institutions," Kirwan said. "I think higher education is responding to these market forces."

Some schools are working harder at it than others. The University of Maryland, College Park, which is swamped with applications and has no expansion plans, has done some targeted ads in the past several years but hasn't done a major campaign. UB, Morgan and Towson are all growing quickly, in part because so many students are now turned away from College Park.

Morgan State, which has struggled at times to keep its classes full, is hoping to accomplish two goals with its campaign: emphasize its history of educating prominent African-Americans and encourage eighth- and ninth-graders to dream about college. In the next decade, Morgan hopes to see a 25 percent increase in undergraduate enrollment and a 70 percent increase in graduate enrollment.

UB's campaign, which began a few weeks ago, is playing up its strengths. Its new slogan is "UB: Knowledge That Works." The university chose a graduate student who is juggling classes, extracurricular activities and two jobs to tell the story of life there.

Natalie Minor tried out for the role in February and already is being seen in commercials on local radio and television channels and on cable networks, including Comedy Central, MTV, ESPN and TBS. A billboard with her picture on it will go up along the Jones Falls Expressway early next week.

The university hopes that the ads will encourage prospective students to go to a Web site, knowledgethatworksub.com, to see 30-second videos about Minor - who waitresses, copy-edits law journals and takes courses toward her degree - and other UB students. They are all portrayed as hardworking and directed.

One is a father who is working 35 hours a week at Giant, taking a heavy course load and watching his family when his wife is at work. Another is a mother taking one course on campus each semester and others online. We see Minor folding napkins at the restaurant, discussing the stress of getting a B on her report card.

In an interview, Minor said she loves UB but didn't really think through the inconvenience of having cameras follow her around off and on for six months.

"It has been one thing after another and not always expected." she said.

Her return is not having to pay tuition for at least this semester and perhaps the next if the ads are still running.

Morgan's ads are nearly as personal, with three teenage boys who appear on several spots. "Our goal is to let people know that young people do dream about their future, and Morgan State University can and does deliver that dream for many of our students," said Clinton Coleman, a Morgan spokesman.

Both universities have hired public relations agencies to do their campaigns. Morgan has been working with Eisner Communications since May as part of a four-year, $2 million marketing program. UB is paying Profiles Inc. $700,000 this year.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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