In a Bind: Rising Costs of College Books

Fellow word lovers, I promise this is the only time you’ll ever witness me bashing books. Now, imagine this being said by Jerry Seinfeld: What’s the deal with college books? I saw a graphic on Vox.com from the American Enterprise Institute’s Mark Perry that made my stomach churn.
 
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Seriously, what is the deal? This is gross. College already is already expensive, and the cost of books is increasing at a greater rate than tuition! The worst part is that it hits hardest with students who are already fighting an uphill battle against obstacles and statistics. Low-income students get the shortest end of the stick here.

 

When I was a college counselor, coming up with money for books was problematic for my low-income students. I had several students enrolled in courses they loved (or were required by their major) who dropped, withdrew from, or even failed the courses because they couldn’t access the necessary texts to participate in the class. Many of these students had used up their summer job money to help out at home or to pay their tuition balance or to purchase dorm necessities like twin XL sheets and toiletries, and so books often took a back seat.

 

It was beyond frustrating to find out in October that a student of mine wasn’t passing in biology homework because he didn’t have the lab workbook, or that she was failing philosophy because there were reading quizzes every class and she didn’t have any of the books. They were paying (or taking out loans to pay) for these classes that they weren’t successful in because they couldn’t pay for the books. And I would list out all of the resources I could think of, but it was usually too late. GAH!

 

Here are a few resources to help cut book money costs—and please tweet at me (@alilincolntvp) with any more money-saving ideas for buying college books.

 

Online bookstores: As soon as a syllabus or booklist is available, students should be scouring the internet to find good deals. Amazon, Half, Better World Books, Chegg, AbeBooks, and SlugBooks.

 

Textbook and e-book rentals: Many school bookstores and some websites offer the option to rent textbooks for the whole semester. Still kind of a racket, but not a bad option for knocking out basic courses.

 

School library (and reserve): Most schools stock the books that professors put on the syllabus in their own libraries. Even better, some professors put multiple copies of required text on reserve for students in their courses. Though the books can’t leave the library, students can access them for free.

 

Book Swaps: Students can check on school Facebook groups, Craigslist (or a school-specific Craigslist if one exists) to see if anyone has books from a previous semester up for grabs for free, cash, or swap.

 

Public libraries: Want to know something awesome about being an English major (or somewhere in the humanities)? Novels, poetry books, memoirs, biographies, etc. are readily available at public libraries. And with the power of the inter-library loan, even more titles can be accessible.

 

Book-specific scholarships: College communities and local communities sometimes have smaller (read: under $500) scholarships specifically for books, so students should do research before heading to campus. Groups that offer book money include community foundations, Rotary clubs, Elks or Lions clubs, church groups, Scout Troops, TRiO programs, and alumni groups.

 

Schools or community programs: Some departments and programs within schools don’t publicize money or books they have available to students in need. Students in programs like Upward Bound, peer mentoring, etc. should inquire within the school for options.

 

Faculty: Professors might have extra copies of books they can lend to students. It can’t hurt to ask; the worst response will be “no.” At some (usually smaller) schools, students can appeal with the financial aid department or with their class dean, but those are long shots.

 

And to avoid ending on a sour grapes book note, enjoy this very important bookish lexicon.

Data-driven Marketing: What You Need to Know

Big data—that’s the big buzzword of 2014, isn’t it? It seems as if we can’t go anywhere without hearing about big data, disruption or one of their offshoots (predictive analytics, anyone?).

 

In higher education and beyond, the implications, “birthing pains,” skepticism and flat-out dismissal of the so-called big data revolution have been well documented. The subject came up on this blog earlier this year when my colleague Kristine Maloney wrote an excellent piece about the value of data in media relations.

 

My professional focus is on education marketing, so I tend to view the “higher ed data revolution” conversation through that lens. After working in the field for almost ten years, there are a few general concepts I have found to be the backbone of any effective data-driven marketing strategy.

 

Focus on what matters.

The amount of data available to us can be a blessing and a curse. It’s fantastic that we’re able to learn so much about our audience, but it can be difficult to sift through the noise and focus on the metrics that will truly help build smarter communications strategies.

 

An easy way to do this is to focus on your goals first and work backward from there. Think about where you want to end up and identify the key metrics for determining success, and then develop a plan for how to get there.

 

Learn to translate your data.

Let’s face it: The idea of analyzing large amounts of data can be daunting. It is critical to boil down information into a digestible format, particularly when you’re presenting numbers to colleagues or bosses who may not be as familiar with the data as you are.

 

How do you do that? Personally, I am a huge fan of using infographics. There are tons of great, free online tools you can use to create all sorts of charts and graphics to help visualize your data and create needed context.

 

Another great example: I love the way Vox takes big, complex concepts (such as the cost of college or how Americans earn and spend money) and presents them in a succinct, easy-to-understand way while still packing in a boatload of information.

 

In my opinion, communicating what the data say is just as important than collecting the numbers in the first place. Finding smart ways to present your data is only going to get more important as the amount of information available increases.

 

Turn numbers into action.


I was surprised this week when I read about many institutions’ plans to increase donations in the next fiscal year. It wasn’t the aggressive goals that surprised me—times are tight on many campuses—it was this nugget about halfway through the article:

 

… Almost none of the respondents reported spending less on any donor-engagement method, including social media, even when it was found to yield few, if any, donations.

 

Come again? What’s the point of tracking and analyzing metrics if you are not going to adjust your strategy accordingly based on the numbers?

 

The beautiful thing about the “age of data” is that we can learn so much about our audiences – likes, dislikes, behavioral patterns etc. It is our responsibility to use that information to develop smarter, more efficient strategies to connect with those audiences. Tracking data for the sake of tracking data is largely a waste of time.

 

 

Make Your List, Check It Twice

August 1 marked the opening of the 2014-2015 college application season with the availability of this year’s Common Application. I read that 600 kids applied on the first day…unless you’re one of those very eager 600, right now is a great to do some research on colleges and applications.
 
List making is one of the biggest hidden pitfalls of the application process. As a college counselor, I saw a lot of lists that lacked research—lists that only included big name schools from movies and TV and popular rankings, lists that included 20+ schools, lists that didn’t have a single affordable option. And unfortunately, many kids don’t have access to a college counselor, and a bad list can sometimes mean no real options come May.
 
So, how can students sort through the noise and construct a list that is realistic, affordable and aligns with their interests and needs? Here are some questions to ask.
 
Can I get in?

I’m not saying take an Ivy off your list if it’s your dream school. Maybe just don’t apply to only Ivies. Round out the reaches on any list with schools that you will most likely get into and schools that you have a 50/50 shot of getting into.
 
Can I afford to go?

It’s heartbreaking to see a student have a stack of acceptance letters and no real affordable options, leaving them with limited or no options for college in the upcoming year. It’s great to apply to state schools, but only the ones in the state where you currently live are usually affordable options. Sticker price can be misleading (check out this Amherst case study). You should look at percentage of need met and average financial aid packages. A school that costs $50,000 but meets 95% of need might be a better option for a lot of families than a school that costs $30,000 but only meets 50% of need.
 
Will I like it?

You should figure out what schools have your interests. I’m not just talking major, since odds are that major will end up changing once or twice. I mean that you should consider what’s important to you in a living and learning environment. Do you want a big or small school? Urban or rural? Do you want study abroad, internship, co-op, a fifth year master’s program? Seems like a simple thing, but it can get overlooked.
 
Other Tips for Application Research:

  • Collegeboard.org is a great place to start research because they have a lot of data. But ALWAYS look at a school’s website, too.
  • Consider application costs. Students typically have to pay to send applications, as well as SAT, ACT, and AP scores.
  • Look at the supplemental essays. They can be just as challenging and important as “the essay” and if you have twenty to write, you need to manage your time and energy wisely.

 
‘Tis the season. And deadlines will be here sooner rather than later. Get cracking on that list. (Sorry, Santa).

Time to Put the Press Release on Life Support

If you’ve ever had the feeling that reporters weren’t reading your press releases, a new study by the communications firm Greentarget will likely confirm your suspicions. The study of 100 reporters and editors across the country found that 69 percent of journalists spend less than 60 seconds reading the news releases that many of us in the public relations business spend days writing.

 

And for an even bigger reality check—based on my own conversations with journalists about the usefulness of press releases and the level of response I’ve received to news releases I’ve distributed—I thought their figure was low.

 

The truth is press releases just aren’t as effective as they once were. That doesn’t mean reporters aren’t interested in your stories; and it doesn’t mean they aren’t receptive to ideas from your institutions. The opposite may actually be true. With today’s fast-paced newsrooms, journalists are under more pressures than ever, often juggling multiple daily deadlines for print, video and online content. They need a constant stream of story ideas, but the key is in how those ideas are delivered. And press releases, which tend to be long and don’t take into account the nuances of particular journalists or outlets, just don’t cut it anymore. And they haven’t for quite some time.

 

Don’t get me wrong, press releases aren’t dead. But their usefulness isn’t in getting media coverage. These days they best serve institutions by acting as an archive for major institutional announcements. (The emphasis here is on “major.” Think announcing a new president, versus inviting people to attend an academic lecture.)

 

If your goal is to get your university featured by the media, your outreach will need to be more strategic. Brevity and hard facts are key, and lend themselves best to a well-crafted pitch. Beyond that, pitches can better address individual reporter’s needs and interests.

 

Late last year Coca-Cola announced they’d be doing away with press releases completely by the year 2015. While their situation doesn’t translate closely to higher education, many institutions find that by cutting back on the volume of press releases they send and focusing their efforts on fewer highly targeted pitches based on major organizational priorities, they actually garner much more meaningful results. This was certainly the case when I worked on a campus.

 

Unlike Coke, academia is not ready to kill the press release altogether, and I’m not arguing that it should. But as the Greentarget study points out, there are compelling reasons to consider putting it on life support, and that, I have learned from experience, is good media relations.

TVP Communications Week in Review

Happy Friday, everybody! As events from around the world continued to command a lot of bandwidth this week, we wanted to be sure you saw the following items from our corner of the higher ed world.

 

What’s new this week:

 

This week, we were pleased to see the president of the Adler School of Professional Psychology, a TVP Communications client partner, quoted in an article about a group of 48 openly gay college and university presidents that announced plans to host a conference in June 2015.

 
You may remember Dr. Crossman from his video interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this year. In the interview, Dr. Crossman discusses the formation of LGBTQ Presidents in Higher Education and his experiences as an openly gay president.

 

What we’ve been talking about:

 

  • Ali Lincoln reminded us all of the importance of seeking out positivity in the news and linked to some student success stories that have made her smile this week.

 

  • Brian Wachur wrote as objectively as he could about a subject near and dear to his heart: college athletics.

 

  • Teresa Valerio Parrot also “tackled” (get it?) the subject of football and documented her experience at a University of Colorado at Boulder athletics department-sponsored football camp for women.

 

You may also be interested in:

 

 

  • The New Republic caught everyone’s attention with William Deresiewicz’s piece that argued Ivy League schools are “turning our kids into zombies.”

 

  • Ever find yourself scratching your head at the name of the newest education technology company? You’re not alone. The Chronicle of Higher Education even released a tongue-in-cheek quiz, “Ed-Tech Company or Made-Up Word?”Take the quiz and see how you measure up! The TVP Communications team averaged a score of 6/9.

 

  • We all know email newsletters are incredibly popular these days. But have you ever wondered how the most popular newsletters built their subscriber bases? Fast Company got some tips from newsletter platform TinyLetter.

 

Follow us on Twitter!

 

Are you following the TVP Communications team on Twitter? Here’s a look at what we were talking about this week:

 

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For all of the latest news and media successes from TVP Communications, be sure to follow us on Twitter.