In an effort to increase the number of students living on campus, UCR Assignments and Marketing adopted the following slogan: “You’re not really going to UCR unless you’re staying at UCR.” This slogan appeared on posters in the HUB and currently appears on the front page of the Housing, Dining and Residential Services’ (HDRS’s) website. The poster also claims that if you live on campus you will enjoy a greater sense of satisfaction, 24/7 peace-of-mind and lifelong friendships. Really!
This marketing slogan suggests that over 70 percent of UCR’s student body is not “really going” to UCR because they do not live on campus. If this is the case maybe commuting students should receive a refund. At the very least, marketing should pull the slogan from the website, burn the posters and apologize to the countless students its campaign disenfranchised. There is simply no excuse for this offensive and insensitive marketing strategy.
In response to the slogan, Victor Lucero, a fourth-year economics student said, “When I first saw the ad I thought it was stupid. For me, I save a lot of money by staying home. If housing was a lot cheaper I’d probably stay in housing.” When asked about the poster’s claims that campus living is more satisfying he said, “That’s a lot of BS, because a lot of people leave the dorms every weekend.” Lucero added that he received a 4.0 GPA last quarter and is very active in school.
Second-year sociology student Cynthia Galan said of the slogan, “I thought it was, like my friend said, rude and inconsiderate to the commuters since there are a lot of people that commute.”
Marketing Director Robert Brumbaugh, when he was informed that the marketing slogan in question appeared to alienate the student commuter population, responded, “…as in most successful marketing, there is a provocative element that is designed to get attention. Our slogan seems to have been successful at this without being risqué or vulgar. Our intentions are never to alienate…” However, official school slogans should never suggest, as in this case, that any population of students is less significant than any other segment of the student population. This slogan alienates commuters, implying that they are so unimportant that it is as though they don’t “really go” to UCR. The slogan may have gotten attention, as suggested by Brumbaugh, but for all the wrong reasons. Many students found the slogan offensive and rude.
When Brumbaugh was asked if he would respond to student’s impressions of the marketing slogan as insensitive and ignorant, he said, “These posters were really intended for prospective incoming students at the campus’ Discover Day. We are vested in making them successful. Many of them will eventually be ‘attending’ UCR. But we want more for them. ‘Going’ is a loaded concept in this slogan pointed in their direction.” But when marketing slogans are placed in a heavily populated area, such as the HUB, their target population becomes everyone within sight of them—they are not exclusive to them, the target population. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.
Brumbaugh directed my attention to the Higher Education Research Institute study, “Completing College: Assessing Graduation Rates at Four-Year Institutions.” The study is a complex data-driven longitudinal cohort research study that assesses graduation rates; it takes into account numerous characteristics of first-time freshmen, although it does not address the concepts of satisfaction, peace of mind or lifelong friendships. The research found that students living on campus are more likely to have higher grades and graduate. However, the study warns that raw graduation rates can be misleading because of varied characteristics, such as a large commuter population or a large number of first generation students, which are both prevalent at UCR. The study also recommends that commuter institutions capture on campus living benefits through alternative programming designed for non-residential learning communities. And, lastly, the study is based on aggregate data and does not compare institutions with similar types of students, which may result in a different finding for UCR.
Certainly, campus living has its advantages, but the marketing slogan used to entice incoming students into buying into campus life is divisive and offensive. The slogan could have easily read, “Enjoy all the benefits campus living has to offer,” but then it might not have been provocative enough to grab their attention.
Commuting students balance life’s demands and make the sacrifices necessary to attain a college education. Students commute for very legitimate reasons and in so doing they embrace the resolve that makes this school great. And while this segment of the student population may have preferred an easier path to the graduation podium, vis-à-vis residency, the measurement of satisfaction for a commuting student is no less. Marketing must rethink their slogan—we don’t need provocative at the expense of offensive on the campus of any university.