Is It Time To Retire The Viewbook?

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John W. Dysart
The Dysart Group, Inc.

Viewbooks have been a staple of higher education recruitment for decades. Nearly every college and university in the United States publishes one. These glossy, elongated brochures are mailed to prospective students, distributed at college fairs, displayed by high school guidance counselors and handed out at admission offices all over the country.

These publications have been used to provide detailed information on academic majors, athletic opportunities, financial aid, educational outcomes and more. They offer pictures of campuses and of campus life and serve as marketing tools to encourage students to enroll. They attempt to demonstrate diversity, academic challenge, security, co-curricular activities and fun. They are also not particularly effective.

So much has changed in recruitment in just the last decade that students have found news ways to obtain information. For many years, viewbooks were one of the best tools to communicate with prospective students. These days, as students have become more technologically savvy, they are unlikely to read viewbooks. They are gathering their information about colleges and universities using electronic means; they are visiting websites.

Money plays a role when considering the viewbook. Frankly, they are expensive. They are expensive to design and produce. They are becoming even more expensive to mail. They are expensive to ship and store.

Several of my client institutions have eliminated the viewbook though most still use a small brochure to take on the road for distribution at college fairs. Retiring the publication has made no difference in the success of the recruitment plan at these colleges and universities. We have seen no decline in the size of the inquiry ool,? no decline in conversion from inquiry to application and no decline in yield. We have, however, been able to redirect literally hundreds of thousands of dollars into other recruitment initiatives. Consider retiring your viewbook and investing the savings into more effective recruitment activities.

If you feel strongly that you want to continue to publish your viewbook, you should at least consider changing the focus. If anyone is going to spend the time reading the publication, it is much more likely to be parents. You should alter the content to address their concerns:

  • Parents will always be concerned about campus safety. The recent incident at Virginia Tech University may make this topic even more important for the next few cycles.
  • Outcomes are always a concern. Parents want to make sure that their child?s enrollment will prepare them for a career. Touting graduation rates and placement rates will be appealing.
  • Parents will want to make sure that you have appropriate support services. Outlining social and academic assistance programs is useful.

It is difficult to make major changes in the recruitment plan. We become accustomed and comfortable with our tried and true tactics and it is easy to be influenced by what your competitors are doing. I believe, however, that it is time to retire the viewbook.

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