“Unattainable, unaffordable, a misuse of state funds.”
This fall, the University of Wisconsin will be running a televised ad campaign during Badger football games that seeks to correct these, and other common misconceptions surrounding the university.
The ad campaign, known as “Mythbusters,” is made up of six different advertisements that each focuses on a way in which UW serves the state of Wisconsin.
The first four ads, titled “Getting In,” “Affordability,” “Finish in Four” and “Employment” hone in on misconceptions that often prevent qualified students from applying to UW. The last two ads, titled “Stay in Wisconsin” and “Return on Investment” focus on how the university gives back to the state.
Executive Director of University Marketing Tricia Nolan said the campaign was mainly based on listening to others’ perceptions of the university.
“What we were hearing anecdotally around the state, from citizens, and from prospective students and parents and even sometimes from alumni, was sort of this whole related series of misperceptions,” Nolan said.
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Nolan attributed part of the blame for those misconceptions surrounding UW on the national narrative surrounding college education.
According to a College Board report, from 1987 to 2017, tuition costs at public four-year institutions rose by 213 percent. Furthermore, the last few years have seen a drastic decline in acceptance rates at elite institutions. College students are graduating with more debt than ever before from institutions that are increasingly difficult to gain admission to.
“I think people just heard that narrative over and over on a national level and thought that it must be true for their home state university,” Nolan said.
These misconceptions often prevent high school seniors from applying to UW, Nolan said. First, students fear they will be rejected. Next, they think that even if they are accepted, they will not be able to afford tuition. Finally, they worry that even if are accepted and can afford tuition, it will take longer than four years to graduate and be very difficult to find a job after graduation.
Freshman Veronica Kuffle recalled similar thoughts when applying to UW.
At her Minnesota high school, teachers and counselors would praise UW as one of the most prestigious public schools in the Midwest. Kuffle’s counselors advised her that her score of 27 on the ACT would likely not be enough to gain acceptance.
“It was crazy that I got in,” Kuffle said. “I didn’t realize that UW-Madison really looks at your entire application.”
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This is one of the misperceptions the advertising campaign aims to end. Each of the ads uses simple statistics to point out facts that people were previously unaware of.
The first ad informs viewers that more than two-thirds of in-state applicants are accepted. The second points out that financial aid has increased more than 157 percent during the last 10 years.
Speaking to students concerned about the time it takes to earn a degree and securing employment after graduation, the third and fourth ads show that most students finish in four years, with 60 percent of them having job offers before they even graduate.
Dhavan Shah, a UW professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, looked further into the advertisements and believes they are about more than correcting false information.
“It’s about really highlighting changes that have been made to the kind of rates at which students are able to get in, the kind of debt load they carry and how much it actually costs to attend the school,” Shah said. “I think all of those are huge factors in shaping whether someone thinks about applying or not.
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The last two ads focus on how UW serves the citizens of Wisconsin, even those who do not directly interact with the university. Many Wisconsin residents hold the misconception that most students leave the state for employment after graduation, when in fact around 80 percent of UW graduates stay in Wisconsin, according to the ad campaign.
The last points out that for every tax dollar put into UW, 24 are generated, resulting in a return investment of $15 billion annually. It goes on to say that the university supports just under 200,000 jobs and has played a role in the founding of hundreds of startup companies.
“When you make an investment to the University of Wisconsin, it pays huge dividends to the state,” Shah said. “We end up with a more educated population, we end up with new innovations, we end up with companies that hire people and we end up with a more culturally rich community.”
Since the ads are appearing during Badger football games, it may seem as though those who view the ads might already agree with the message the ads are sending. After all, Badger fans form an important part of the UW community.
Shah said, however, Badger fans just might be the perfect audience to target the ads towards.
“There are a lot of taxpaying Wisconsin residents who might not tune into university lectures but are still fans of the Badgers and have deep roots in the state,” Shah said. “They certainly get a message that corrects their misperception, and that’s exactly the audience to go for.”