Last week, the University of Wyoming launched an admissions advertising campaign under the tag line ‘The World Needs More Cowboys’. The original ad has a strong narrative, using the spirit of the cowboy from the Old West, though the visual footage looks much like any other university ad that I have seen during a football game. There’s young scientists, athletes, dancers and engineers as well as a look at the campus.
I was not crazy about the lead line. I would have preferred something along the lines of “Happy Trails” or “The World Needs Wyoming” that could apply to cowboys, cowgirls, explorers, and settlers. But I’m sure that line would have been less powerful.
I have never thought that women would identify themselves as “Cowboys,” although that is the name for the university’s male athletic teams. Wyoming’s female varsity athletes are called Cowgirls. But I have also read quotes from women within the university community, including the president of the school, that they are okay with the Cowboy identity. Market research conducted by the university’s advertising agency prior to launch, also shows that the new campaign may increase, rather than decrease, interest in the university from prospective female students. That’s the whole point of an advertising campaign: increased awareness leads to increased interest that makes revenues rise.
The University of Wyoming is an interesting school. It has fewer full-time undergraduates—less than 8,300—than any school that is the Land Grant and the flagship university for its state. This is no surprise since Wyoming has fewer people—less than 600,000—than you will find in the sixth most populous county in New Jersey. Wyoming, of course is far less congested and far less crowded, which also helps in building the cowboy image.
I can’t blame the school’s admissions marketing team for thinking out of the box to try to draw more interest from non resident freshmen as well as transfer students. Just over half of last year’s freshman class at the University of Wyoming came from outside Wyoming as does a third of the entire undergraduate student body, including students who transferred in. However, the university also loses about a quarter of their freshman class each year. So it has to aggressively seek transfer students as well as new freshmen. Last fall this school welcomed nearly 1,100 transfer students, quite large, considering the size of the undergraduate student body.
There’s a plus for incoming freshmen and transfer students: the student/faculty ratio is 15 to 1, low for a flagship state school. Most of the faculty teach undergraduates at a school that offers less than 40 doctoral programs. Twelve percent of all classes had more than 50 students versus nearly a quarter of the classes at sports rival Colorado State. A comprehensive university that offers many majors in a less intimidating academic setting is quite appealing, when the school can sell it, and keep the students on board.
And a low price certainly doesn’t hurt. The university estimates a Total Cost of Attendance of approximately $20,000 for Wyoming residents, and just over $32,000 for non-residents. Its cheaper for residents of New Jersey and Pennsylvania to attend the University of Wyoming than it is to go to their home state universities, presuming that they want to be Cowboys. The university is also a member of the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE), offering discounts to students in several Western states. It’s really hard to beat the value for the money, especially if you like the idea of living in a mountain state.
While the ad mentions that students hail from as far as Delaware and Nigeria, the university’s greatest appeal outside of Wyoming has been in the western states. The campus is only 150 miles north of Denver, according to the university’s most recent fact book. Colorado ranks second only to Wyoming among states that send students, distantly followed by California. But only 21 states sent more than 40 students west to Laramie last fall. Six were Wyoming’s immediate neighbors: Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Utah.
I can see that people in Western states, especially Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas may respond well the university’s advertising campaign. The cowboy ethos is very much a part of their history, as it is in Wyoming. But I don’t know how well this campaign will play in California or Washington State, places where the university has a serious chance to compete for students, because the high-profile flagships are extremely selective, and the less selective in-state schools are less expensive. But good marketing campaigns are more than televisions. They also include targeted print and social media to reach out to those places where the university will need to educate prospects on what it means to be a Cowboy.
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