MSK Partners


Design, communication and what's on our mind

Hunkering down

Across the country, budgets are still tight on many campuses and colleges are struggling to find new sources of revenue. State budget cuts and reductions in private donations present mounting challenges. A recent report on U.S. institutions from The Chronicle of Higher Education details many of the issues including these highlights:

  • Private colleges are more dependent than public ones on tuition
  • College endowments began to grow again in 2010
  • Public financing for colleges fell in many states in 2010-11
  • 63 gifts of $101-million or more were given to institutions last year
  • 99 institutions charged $50,000 or more for tuition, room and board during 2010-11
  • Student costs at 4-year private colleges are almost double those at public colleges
  • Tuition discount rates are rising at private colleges
  • Federal science funds doubled at 28 colleges

Given our heavy involvement in institutional fundraising, of particular interest to us were details on the top fund raisers including our clients Johns Hopkins and the University of Pennsylvania – both in the top ten for total support and support from non-alumni individuals.

Filed under: Higher Education

Codes for contact

QR – or “quick response” – codes are finally starting to pop up around the country. While still not fully mainstream, QR codes are appearing in print publications, on bus sides, and plastered on storefronts. At this rate, it won’t be long before most people can immediately recognize and use QR codes. So how are colleges and universities taking advantage of this technology? We’re seeing them in a wide variety of applications. From codes on math worksheets that direct students to video tutorials of how to solve problems…to QR codes on literary magazines to lead people to a gallery of all the artwork that was submitted but couldn’t fit in the print version. Our primary usage? On alumni magazines to direct readers to alumni events and community. On campaign case statements to link donors to leadership videos. And of course in viewbooks, for prospective students to see all kinds of up-to-date content. Are you interested in using QR codes for your institution? Please let us know so we can share samples and ideas with you.

Filed under: Communication, Higher Education, Technology

Silver and Gold

We typically don’t enter creative award contests but are fortunate in having clients who like our work enough to enter it in various international and regional shows. Recently two such entries garnered awards: Bloomsburg University Magazine won a Gold at the MarCom Awards held by the Association of Marketing and Communications Professionals; and a brochure developed for the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception Laboratory (more commonly known as GRASP) won Silver at the CASE Accolades Awards organized the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Please let us know if you would like us to send you a copy of either piece.


Filed under: Design, Higher Education

Rankings Time

In the realm of college admissions, last week was a time to rejoice—or rant. It all depends on your opinion of college rankings – or, perhaps, your college’s place on U.S. News & World Report’s annual list. As you may have heard, some university in Massachusetts topped the list of national universities, and a small college in the same state took the top spot on the list of liberal-arts colleges. 

Although some things never change, the ranking methodology does. This year, U.S. News included the views of high-school counselors in its measure of “academic reputation,” perhaps the most controversial aspect of the rankings. Previously, the magazine used only an annual “peer assessment” survey of college presidents, provosts, and admissions deans to calculate this measure.
 Ratings by nearly 1,800 high-school counselors surveyed accounted for a third of that measure, and ratings by college administrators accounted for two-thirds. In other words, the opinions of college officials carry less weight than they did last year.

The significance of this change may be more symbolic than substantial. Sure, the power of the peer-assessment survey, long loathed by some college officials and high-school counselors, has been diluted. Nevertheless, reputation—that slippery and subjective thing—still matters a lot in the U.S. News formula. The mix of reputational experts has just become more diverse.

Filed under: Higher Education

Update…CASE Member Magazine Readership Survey (CMMRS)

You may recall a post earlier this year on the then upcoming results for the CMMRS. Well the results are in and they encompass more than 35,000 alumni magazine readers and more than 135 member institutions across the country. Suffice to say there is a wealth of good information covering topics such as reading habits, subject preferences, and the actions of readers, including alumni, parents, and other constituents.

Of particular interest to the editors among you will be the most (and least) popular topics. The most popular, in order were: class notes, institutional history and traditions, athletics, issues facing higher education, and student research/academic experience. Readers said they were least interested in: fundraising and donor stories, faculty publications, athletics (again), and stories about alumni who volunteer for the institution.

As with most primary research, the CMMRS raises plenty of questions related to applying the findings to a specific publication. If you’re interested, we’d be delighted to help you work your way through that process. If you’ve not seen the survey in it’s entirety, please contact us and we’ll share that with you.

Filed under: Higher Education

Alumni Magazine Readers – A National Survey

CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) revealed some of the core findings of an interesting new survey during the annual CASE District II conference in Philadelphia today. As an aside, the Conference was well attended (despite the snow) and well organized. It was good to see various clients winning 2010 Accolades Awards – congratulations to one and all.

Back to the survey – the CASE Members Magazine Readership Survey, launched in 2009, gives the first comprehensive national data on magazine readers’ habits, likes and dislikes. More than 120 institutions participated in the Web-based research with a total of more than 30,000 readers responding. All results been added to a national database.

In Philadelphia, Tracy Casteuble, Director of Research, CASE, presented the top-line results of the survey and various conclusions about what works – and what doesn’t – with alumni magazine readers. From what I’ve seen of the results so far, I suspect many of the conclusions will affirm our own beliefs built-up from seeing the results of surveys our clients have conducted. However, being able to peg our own smaller surveys against a large national database is significant. We’re looking forward to seeing the complete survey results – available to coincide with the March issue of Currents.

Filed under: Higher Education

Content Management Systems in Higher Ed

Our friends at Systems Alliance provide technology consulting services to clients including University of Maryland University College, Johns Hopkins Institutions and Conde Nast. While Systems Alliance is perhaps best know for their content management system, SiteExecutive, they continue to be a valuable resource for understanding certain vertical markets. For us, higher education is a prime focus and if that’s an area of interest for you, I’d recommend a survey they conducted of college executives  – respondents identify accepted student websites and better web content for parents as useful tools for enhancing recruitment and enrollment:

Filed under: Higher Education