Rethinking Your Printed Alumni Magazine

With budgets tightening and universities looking for ways to cut costs, one solution might be to turn your school’s printed alumni magazine into an online magazine. Or at the very least, you can cut some pages from your alumni magazine and feature that content online instead. Not only will an online magazine save money by removing or lowering printing and mailing costs, but it can also help you reach younger alumni and prospective students as “the majority (81%) prefer reading digital text to print” when it comes to Millennials.

Aside from the lower costs, going online lets you tell your university’s stories in more ways, from videos to interactive articles to podcast episodes. Some of the very best university magazines, like BU’s Bostonia and Johns Hopkins Magazine, have done a great job of featuring compelling and diverse types of content online in order to engage their audiences. While you may not have the resources that these two schools have, you can still craft a cost-saving online magazine that is compelling, branded and meets engagement and donor goals.

Here are some things to keep in mind when launching an online university magazine:

Think Bigger Than Just Alumni
Instead of an online alumni magazine, why not think of it as an online university publication? Fuller Seminary did just that with their launch of Fuller Studio, which is aimed at not only alumni but others connected to the university as well — including prospective students. In this way, your online publication can be a major asset for introducing prospective students (and parents) to your brand as well as keeping donors updated on how alumni are making an impact in their communities, all while still keeping alumni connected to their alma mater.

Build a Diverse Team on Campus
Unlike a print magazine that comes out only a few times a year, it’s important to publish content regularly in order to grow and maintain your reach online. It can be tricky to keep tabs on the latest alumni entrepreneur or student athlete, which is why it’s important to build a team of people across campus and meet with them regularly to learn about the latest news and stories.

A Promotional Strategy Is Just as Important as the Content
What good is that in-depth feature or enthralling alumni spotlight if no one sees it? That’s why it’s important to offer your audience a way to sign up for email updates with a clear call-to-action. And make sure to use Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and other social media platforms to strategically promote your content. An email might be perfect for an older alum while an Instagram post might work better for a prospective student.

Don’t Neglect Design, Site Structure or Measurement
Compelling photography, easy-to-navigate content, and a clear menu structure are important to keep your audience coming back. For some, the university publication might be the only interaction they have with your school, so make sure it’s well designed and branded. And use services like Google Analytics or Hotjar to take into account the pieces of content that are doing well (or not so much), which will help you to plan future content accordingly.

Rely on Others for Help
The beauty of working on a college campus is that there are tons of talented and knowledgeable people available to help craft content for you. From an English major to a history professor to an admissions counselor, tap into your campus community for contributors to your online magazine. Just a little bit of outsourcing and editing can save you a lot of time and money.


Chou, Joyce. “How Millennials Consume Content (& How to Better Engage Them).” May 24, 2018.

Managing Printing Requires Time & Experience

Whew! You’re finally done - it’s been several long months of creating and executing a concept for a new admissions campaign, but the final round of edits is done. The last missing photo has been updated. So with final copy and design files, there’s just one last task: printing.

Ok, forget what we just said, you’re not actually done.

With hundreds of enrollment marketing projects under our belts, we’ve seen the good, bad and the ugly of printing. So how does a marketing or admissions office successfully navigate this final step? Does it make sense to handle printing internally? What are the benefits of having your vendor partner also coordinate this part of the project?

Here are a few simple questions to help you assess how to handle the production side of launching a new recruitment campaign.

Do you have the right role?

Is your team lucky enough to have a print manager on staff? If so, you’re likely in good hands. Don’t forget to include your print manager in the creative process - they will likely have valuable information that could shape the size, page count or grouping of deliverables.

If you don’t have this type of role within your team, check with the vendor who helped create your campaign to determine if they can oversee the printing process. Speaking from our own experience, we’ve been on hundreds of press checks for hundreds of clients, with projects that range from 1-color business cards to 6-color printing plus spot UV with custom die-cut and perfect bindery.

Do you have the experience?

One of the most common areas where printing goes sideways is paper selection. Whether it’s your own print manager or your vendor partner, make sure you’re working with someone who is able to suggest paper options that work best for the materials and also keep your budget in mind. Paper makes a huge difference in quality and how your pieces are received. Experience in this area is key to staying on-budget and also loving the final materials.

Do you have the time?

Managing the printing process involves a significant investment of time. After all, someone has to:

  • Get initial quotes (and likely revise them) from different printers.

  • Send all print-ready files and communicate order details to the printer.

  • Understand your proofs (likely the largest investment of time).

  • Attend press checks at the printer.

  • Communicate all delivery needs (and possibly bulk mail needs, too).

  • Coordinate in-hand dates or drop dates.

These are a lot of moving pieces to manage. Don’t underestimate the amount of time needed for printing, and definitely make sure that you’ve factored it into the overall timeline for your campaign.

Ultimately, you get what you pay for when it comes to selecting a printer and managing the printing process. With the right kind of planning and oversight, it is possible for print production to go smoothly, which means you’ll have those new items in hand right on time.

Have a small printing question or want to visit about what it would look like to partner with our team? Let’s talk.

The State of Texting in Higher Ed Recruiting

Should Text Messages Be Part of Your Communication with Prospective Students?

“My friends don’t text each other. They all use Snapchat.” That was my 15-year-old son’s recent attempt to convince us that he needs social media. Sure, his appeal is at least a bit exaggerated, but perhaps there is a hint of insight for us in thinking about communicating with Gen Z.

Social Media Messaging vs. Texting

The rise of social media for teens presents a valid consideration for college admissions professionals: If 67% of high school seniors are on Snapchat daily, is texting still relevant? For college recruiting, the answer is “yes.”

Recent data shows that only about one-fourth of seniors are comfortable receiving messages from a college on social media apps. The same report finds that more than three-quarters of those students were open to some form of text communication with colleges and universities and nearly half of seniors would welcome these messages.

Back to my son’s comment, notice that he said, “My friends don’t text each other.” As I scroll through the texts on his phone, it is obvious that this format is often used beyond peer communication—like messages from his youth pastor, his football coach, his grandmother, and me. Is he keeping up with these messages? Definitely yes. Could it be that texting is emerging as the channel for a student’s more “serious” communication?

Effectively Texting

Since texting is an under-utilized tool for college recruiters, it may be a way to stand out from your competitors. Here are some tips for how to make the most of this channel.

  • Keep in mind what students want to see in a text message. According to the report cited above, the top reasons they want to be texted are: acceptance notification, deadline reminders, and details about their applications. Avoid photos and videos, links to social media or websites, and webinar or live chat invitations.

  • Focus your texting efforts on students who have already expressed interest in your school. This is not your best tool for mass communication.

  • Never lose sight of the relationship you’re building. Whatever the statistics say, the personal touch still matters, and we often hear this first-hand from students on campus. Sentiments like, “I felt wanted here”—that’s what ultimately made the difference in their college decision.


Ruffalo Noel Levitz & OmniUpdate. (2018). 2018 E-expectations report. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Available at

Recruiting Parents

As parents of teenagers and college students ourselves, we’re thinking about college with fresh perspective these days. How involved are we when it’s time to start researching, visiting, and decision-making?

Will we subtly press our preferences on our children? Probably. Will we make information-gathering phone calls and website visits? Sure. Will we visit campuses? With pom-poms waving!

Fine-Tuning Your Campus Photography

Photos hold an incomparable power to tell your story. To show what your students value. To capture one-of-a-kind moments on your campus. To communicate what makes your school something special.

There’s no secret trick, no silver bullet, for a masterful photo shoot. Rather, it’s a fine art that requires careful planning and execution—along with a healthy dose of flexibility.

Winning with Print

If you work in admissions and enrollment, you’re moving quickly to connect with students wherever they are. Though a strong digital strategy is essential, print holds a critical place in reaching your audience. There’s certainly no substitute for a tangible take-away piece when meeting with students in person. And while email is the primary preferred means of initial communication for 49% of students, preference for direct mail is still strong, at over 37% (Ruffalo Noel Levitz).

No doubt, though, the Gen Z attention span for print is limited—so it’s more important than ever to make every page count

Our Top Five Web Design Trends for 2017

It’s no secret how important your website is. The 2016 E-Recruiting Practices Report from Ruffalo Noel Levitz found that 71% of high school seniors rate college websites as the most important communication channel for learning about a college.

If you want Gen Z to take you seriously, your web design has to meet their heightened expectations, and your content has to be relevant and real. Let’s start with design. Are you up to speed on the latest trends? You’d better be, because they are—and prospective students equate the quality of your site to the quality of your institution. According to the 2015 Ruffalo Noel Levitz E-Expectations Report, "nearly eight out of 10 high school juniors and seniors said that a college website affects how they perceive an institution."

A recent Forbes article identified “The Five Most Important Website Design Trends That Will Emerge In 2017.” But slapping on glitzy new styles may not be so simple for higher ed websites, as you’re necessarily dealing with large amounts of content.

Since applying new trends in our context requires some unique skill and creativity, the Forbes article inspired us to come up with our own “5° Top Five” for higher ed websites.

  1. Responsive Design—This fundamental is now an expectation, and it’s been the norm for the past five years. A responsive website is designed to be viewed and experienced in a similar way regardless of what device you’re using. Some sites even take a “mobile first” approach in their initial conception. With over 70% of U.S. web traffic coming from mobile devices, a site that is not responsive is inadequate, and prospective students are taking note. Pull up SEBTS and the University of Nebraska on your phone to see examples of quality responsive design.
  2. GO BIG and go small—The first of the four C-R-A-P design principles is Contrast, and this principle is critical for higher ed website design. Fear of scrolling and an “above the fold” mentality have given way to larger, more immersive interfaces and content organization. Big is in, but so is small. Large, full-width images, full screen video, big buttons, and sweeping headlines can merge with areas of smaller content, patterns, and micro design to create engaging contrast and visual hierarchy. Bucknell and the University of Tennessee offer good examples of sites that have embraced this principle.
  3. A Robust Style Toolbox—Beyond the basic H-styles and div tags, .edu sites should take a page from Kenyon College and UNR to develop a toolbox of styles and design elements for use throughout the site. The goal is to balance uniformity with unique content needs in a way users feel at home as they view your site.
  4. Parallax Scrolling and Interactivity Paired with Micro-Interactions—The idea of layering content to move at different speeds as you scroll (parallax scrolling) has been around for several years. Rather than a fad that will come and go, we see it as an evolving tool to engage the user and aid in storytelling. The Forbes article describes micro-interactions as “user enabled interactions that provide control, guidance or rewards, or just impart fun to the experience for the user.” Johns Hopkins University and the University of Texas capital campaign site show innovative use of this idea. 
  5. Beyond the Home Page—Because prospective students and other site users are entering your site through a variety of channels (Google search, SEM campaigns, cross-linking, etc.), your site can’t put all its eggs in the home page basket. Gateway, landing, and program pages are just as important as home page interface design and functionality. The University of Nebraska knows this well. See the value they’ve placed on a number of pages beyond the home page—Why UNL?, visitor, about, and cost & aid.

Your prospective students are increasingly engaging websites with today’s best design features.

Are you incorporating these “Top Five” trends in your web design?


Ruffalo Noel Levitz (2016). 2016 e-recruiting practices report for four-year and two-year institutions. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Retrieved from

Ruffalo Noel Levitz, OmniUpdate, CollegeWeekLive, & NRCCUA. 2015 e-expectations report. Cedar Rapids: Ruffalo Noel Levitz, 2015. Available at

Kloefkorn, Sheila. Forbes. Forbes Community Voice. Dec. 21,. “The Five Most Important Website Design Trends That Will Emerge In 2017.”


Is Your School Engaging Today’s Growing Minority Population?

For Gen Z students, ethic and cultural diversity is a natural part of everyday life. Minority student groups now make up more than 40% of the total college population in four-year schools. How diverse is your campus?

According to NCES reports, all categories of ethnic minorities are on the rise, while the percentage of white students is falling.

From fall 1976 to fall 2014, the percentage of Hispanic students rose from 4 percent to 17 percent, the percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander students rose from 2 percent to 7 percent, the percentage of Black students rose from 10 percent to 14 percent, and the percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native students rose from 0.7 percent to 0.8 percent. During the same period, the percentage of White students fell from 84 percent to 58 percent. Nonresident aliens, for whom race/ethnicity is not reported, made up 5 percent of college students in 2014.

For many schools, achieving diversity is a complex issue that will involve significant strategic planning and systemic changes, but we’ve identified a few points to get you thinking about the possibilities.


Some universities near large minority populations are reaching out to local high school students through special funding. The Johns Hopkins University, for example, recognizes high-achieving Baltimore City public school graduates (a school system with 92% minority students), with scholarship assistance up to 100% for eligible students. In the University of California system, the president herself, Janet Napolitano, recruits minority students in high schools. She breaks down misconceptions about affordability by highlighting the system’s generous system of financial aid.

Dr. Brian C. Mitchell, director of Edvance Foundation, adds further perspective: “In the end, the problem may be less about specialized recruitment counselors and money than about how to fix a broken pipeline and provide a better safety net.” He suggests that four-year institutions start by partnering with community colleges,  where enrollment rates are high for minority students—creating a pathway for student transition.  (See more here about recruiting community college students.)

Care and Retention

As minority students arrive on campus, without proactive outreach in place, they may feel isolated and experience culture shock. Minority students at Northeastern University in Boston rely on the African-American cultural center on campus as a safe space to discuss racial issues. Mitchell suggests mentoring programs for black students, as well as changing staff and faculty recruiting policies.

Marketing Approaches

When prospective minority students look at your school, can they picture themselves there? Here are some tips that just touch the surface, but they’re critical if you want students to take a look below the surface and discover your school’s true heart for diversity.

  • On your website and in your recruiting materials, be sure to include photos that naturally capture the student diversity of your campus.
  • Identify affinity groups for under-represented students, and highlight organizations that welcome and celebrate ethnic diversity.
  • Feature testimonials of a wide-range of students.
  • Be intentional to include outstanding students of different ethnic groups as leaders for student recruitment events.

Growing diversity on campus reflects the multicultural world students will be entering after graduation. We encourage you to ask minority students on your campus, “How are we doing?”


National Center for Education Statistics. “Fast Facts.”

The Johns Hopkins University. “The Baltimore Scholars Program.”

Watanabe, Theresa. Los Angeles Times, February 5, 2016. “UC expands its recruiting efforts targeting black and Latino students.”

Mitchell, Brian C. The Huffington Post, April 27, 2015, “College Minority Recruiting.”

National Center for Education Statistics. “Digest of Education Statistics.” Table 306.20.

Krantz, Laura. Boston Globe. “Diverse campuses, but still few black students.”

Higher Ed Marketing in the Gap Year

With enrollment in gap year programs up 23% since 2015, if your institution is overlooking this trend, then you may be missing a key contingent of prospective students. While the idea of a “year off” between high school and college is not new, what’s different is the breadth of students the idea is attracting. An investigative report with Katie Couric finds that the gap year is “not just for rich kids anymore.”

Will Your Admissions Materials Stand Out in a Crowded Mailbox/Inbox?

How could two universities—one in Buffalo, New York, and the other in Sydney, Australia—come up with marketing campaigns that look almost interchangeable? That’s the question presented in a recent article, “Your Future Starts Here. Or Here. Or Here” in Inside Higher Ed.

Generation Z and You

Things move fast in our technology-driven world. For college recruiters, at least, the Millennial Generation has given way to Generation Z.

What’s the difference? Millennials (born between 1980 and 1994), while very attached to their mobile devices, at least remembers a time before smart phones. For Gen Z (born 1995 or later), touch screens have always been part of their world.

Gen Z grew up in an era of recession, terrorism, and uncertainty. As a result, they think about the world differently from Millennials. They’re a little more cautious with their money and more wary of the privacy tradeoffs involved in “traditional” social media like Facebook, preferring less trackable media, such as Snapchat and Yik Yak. They are used to self-educating with online videos, and they expect to create or co-create their own media and entertainment experiences.

Last year the marketing firm Sparks and Honey released an excellent report on Generation Z. It is well worth a read, including this “Checklist for Connecting with Gen Z”:

  • Depict them as diverse (ethnically, sexually, fashionably)
  • Talk in images: emojis, symbols, pictures, videos
  • Communicate more frequently in shorter bursts of “snackable content”
  • Don’t talk down…talk to them as adults, even about global topics
  • Assume they have opinions and are vocal, influencing family decisions
  • Make stuff—or help Gen Z make stuff (they’re industrious)
  • Tap into their entrepreneurial spirit
  • Be humble
  • Give them control and preference settings
  • Collaborate with them—and help them collaborate with others

5 Degrees is here to help you execute a strategy for speaking to Generation Z so that they can hear your institution’s unique message. Let's talk about your plans for recruiting your next class of Gen Z students.