Wednesday, January 16th, 2019

One million dollars spent on television and radio advertisements

Sam Hill | The Free Press

Posted on April 14, 2015 in News
By Francis Flisiuk

A one million dollar ad campaign was launched in February encouraging prospective students to “find themselves at USM,” but the effectiveness it’s had on boosting enrollment is unclear at this time.

Two weeks ago the Portland Press Herald reported that despite the numerous television and radio ads, undergraduate applications are down ten percent from last year and new enrollment for 2015 is down 41 percent. So far the admissions office has seen 3,809 applications compared to 4,249 from last year. But according to Christopher Quint, it’s too early for a final headcount for the fall and the 41 percent decline in enrollment reported by the Press Herald, is completely irrelevant.

“It’s not even close to being true,” said Quint. “There was no context, it was a snapshot in time, when there’s so much upward trajectory happening at USM.”

USM has seen a 13 percent drop in enrollment since fall 2010. Enrollment for last fall was down 5.5 percent with 8,428 students.

Last month at a board of trustees meeting, president David Flanagan said that in reality he expects enrollment to be down despite new advertising and scholarship money.

But according to Quint some of the positive momentum he’s seen includes increased traffic on USM’s website and more applications coming in from transfer and undergraduate students.

“People are clicking on our ads and inquiring about our programs,” said Quint. “We’re seeing upticks in applications across the board. It hasn’t fixed everything, but the ad campaign is having a positive impact.”

Quint said that the one million dollars used to pay for the ads came from savings in the budget that were a result of last fall’s faculty and staff retrenchments.

“We generated savings from having staff and some faculty, off the books if you will,” said Quint. “We were able to use those savings and put it towards something positive; getting more students here, so we don’t have to do this again. If you lay off someone, and don’t fill that position, that money is still in your budget. You can use it for something else. We made the decision to turn our enrollment around.”

In a comment written on social media, Susan Feiner a professor of economics and women and gender studies, criticized the money spent on the ad campaign and wrote that the savings won’t kick in until next year because the faculty that were fired are still paid their salary for 18 months.

However Quint explained that the severance pay is a cost being borne by the UMaine system.

Both Quint and the new president Harvey Kesselman said that boosting enrollment is the key to USM’s success.

“It’s our number one priority right now,” said Quint. “If we don’t boost enrollment, we’re going to continue to see a slide.”

The recent campaign ran advertisements on television, radio, Hulu and various websites promoting new scholarship money and USM’s new metropolitan vision. The ads themselves did not have any live action shots of people or footage from campuses, but instead featured blue and gold typography with a voiceover saying that USM is a “game changer.”

“Whenever I hear, ‘there’s never been a time like now to attend USM,’ in the ads I laugh because that is so true, but not in a good way,” said Annie Stevens,  2013 USM graduate, now Maine Law student. “There has never been a time when USM was doing so terrible and no one wanted to be there.”

Kate Ginn, a political science alumnus said that she lives 10 minutes away from USM, but will be attending another school for her master’s degree because she’s lost confidence in USM.

“I feel confident that the university I’ll be attending intends to preserve its academic programs and continue to grow as needed,” said Ginn. “Maybe the new ads will attract students and parents who don’t realize what has changed.”

Criticism swirls around on social media, with local Portlanders who have been following the situation at USM closely like Cecile Thornton poising the question: “how can you expect students to come to your institution when they’ve seen the rug pulled out from under so many enrollees.” The general opinion of critics, like Nancy Young a graduate at the University of Maine at Farmington, is that high school students will be leery to apply to USM because they can’t be sure that their major will survive the time it takes for them to graduate.

Some community members such as Portlander and Rutgers graduate Mark Usinger are more lenient and said that even Rome wasn’t built in a day and to cut the new guy some slack.

Martin Conte, a senior English major, said that it’s a fallacy to tell people to not go to USM if you care about the school’s future.

“Boosting enrollment won’t solve our severe issues with mismanagement but they will help with heaps of other things, and there’s no reason to oppose these attempts to do so,” said Conte.

For now, USM’s administration under Kesselman remains as optimistic as ever and is, will be and has been focusing on boosting enrollment in other ways besides targeted advertising.

“The ad campaign is done, but we’re not done,” said Quint. “We’ve been aggressively recruiting and placing phone calls to prospective students encouraging them to enroll.”

Last Friday, Kesselman drove nine hours from New Jersey to welcome 357 students and their families at Gorham’s accepted student day, and ultimately inspire them to take the final step toward enrolling. Kesselman said that he wants to be as visible as possible during his time as USM’s president.

“I think that many of the moves that we are making are helping to generate more excitement about our university; it plays a role in people choosing to come here,” said Kesselman. “Our university has experienced some difficulties, but now it’s rejuvenating and it’s incredibly satisfying to be a part of that process.”

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