January 21, 2018

Who’s Writing the Op-eds?: A Fresh Look at the Presidents Behind the Words

This an update to an earlier post in mid-December 2014. That earlier analysis was based on about 350 opinion pieces.  Now, however, I’ve amassed nearly 600 opinion pieces by college and university presidents that have been published in 2014, on line or in print, making this a far more definitive look at presidents' op-eds than the earlier post. In mid-January, I posted a comprehensive list of the 205 presidents represented in the database . Here are some demographics… Sector: Even with intense outreach to all sectors for published op-eds and an ongoing search across all media, private college and university presidents dominate the collected opinion pieces (70%). Public four-year institutions account for 22 percent, with community colleges being the smallest segment (8%). I’ve chosen to exclude tribal colleges and for-profits, but have seen virtually no op-eds from those sectors anyway. Number of Writers: As I note on the full list of presidents in the database, those with … [Read more...]

Washington Post Launches New Higher Ed Blog

The Washington Post has added a new higher education blog, Grade Point, that according to the Post’s announcement January 13, will “present a comprehensive daily report about local and national higher education.” Susan Svrluga (formerly Susan Kinzie) will oversee the new venture. Susan has been with the Post for over 10 years, and earlier in her tenure (under her former name) served as higher education reporter. Also contributing to the new blog will be higher ed writer Nick Anderson and former Chronicle of Higher Education editor Jeff Selingo. The announcement, written by Post Education Editor Josh White, also notes that the blog will “aim to include voices of those connected to higher education coast-to-coast, from university presidents to college freshmen,” making it another possible venue for op-eds by presidents and others on campus. A somewhat expanded version of the announcement appeared in the print edition of the Post on January 19 but, for whatever reason, … [Read more...]

Making a List

No, this isn’t a Christmas post, though Santa has long known the power of lists in keeping you focused on what’s important. As I’ve looked at hundreds of college presidents’ op-eds over the past year, I’ve noticed how some writers are making effective use of lists. What makes lists work as communication devices? They cast a spotlight on your key points. Rather than having to mine paragraphs for those key points, the reader can zero in on what’s important. They force you to prioritize and organize. In some op-eds, I sense the writer wandering without clear direction, like a lost driver. Lists are a bit like GPS for your writing. They are scan-friendly: In today’s Twitter world, many readers don’t have the patience or time to absorb a lengthy narrative. Lists are the billboards for drive-by reading. News media love them. Anyone who’s been in public relations beyond PR101 knows that lists are like catnip to editors. Send a news release titled “The Top Ten … [Read more...]

Who’s Writing the Op-eds?: The Presidents Behind the Words

The database continues to grow. I’ve now amassed roughly 350 opinion pieces by college and university presidents that have been published, on line or in print, so far in 2014. I’ll put content issues under the microscope in the coming weeks, but right now, let’s look at who’s writing those op-eds. Just a few days ago, I posted a comprehensive list of the presidents represented in the database (with links to all op-eds by the top 14 in number of published pieces for the year). It’s an extraordinary group. Here are some demographics… Sector: Even with intense outreach to all sectors for published op-eds and an ongoing search across all media, private college and university presidents dominate the collected opinion pieces. Still, public four-year institutions are well represented, with community colleges being the smallest segment. (I’ve chosen to exclude tribal colleges and for-profits, but have seen virtually no op-eds from those sectors anyway.) Gender: … [Read more...]

Op-eds: Why Are We So Afraid to Get Personal?

The headline on the college president’s Boston Globe opinion piece in early October read simply, “I have breast cancer.” Then in just over 500 words, Helen Drinan, president of Simmons College, tells the story of learning a month earlier that she has stage 1, grade 3 breast cancer, and details her medical procedures since the diagnosis. It’s a story with a purpose: breast exams may be painful and inconvenient, but they can be life-savers. “I reflect often on the dire consequences if I had skipped my [annual] mammogram,” Drinan says. It would be hard to imagine a more personal opinion piece. It’s also rare to find many college presidents willing to be seen as three-dimensional human beings with all the fears, failings, and family history that is both unique to each of us and common to all of us. Storytelling, a communication device that dates to the dawn of humanity, has been rediscovered in recent years. There is rarely a month without a webinar or conference … [Read more...]

Op-eds and the Buddy System

If you’re like me, you think of opinion pieces as being the views of one person. Not necessarily, though. My analysis of 214 op-eds by college and university presidents from the first six months of 2014 turned up a surprising number of joint ventures – a total of 20, or nearly 10 percent of the op-eds examined. Here are some examples: A piece by three Arizona public university presidents and a U.S. congressman making the case for what the institutions contribute to the state. An op-ed cosigned by four Baltimore private college presidents applauding an initiative by the city’s new mayor to engage major higher education and medical institutions in a joint effort. A team of three major public university system heads supporting the Common Core State Standards as important in assuring the high school graduates are prepared for college. Leadership tips for college presidents from two private college presidents – who, incidentally, have teamed up on many other opinion … [Read more...]

More Than You Wanted to Know About Op-ed Length

How long should an op-ed be? Well, that depends. I’ve looked at close to ten how-to guides for op-eds, all written by respected PR pros over the past 25 years. The conventional wisdom varies a bit: Under 700 or 800 words, most say. Many zero in on a “sweet spot” of 600 to 750 words. However, my analysis of 200 opinion pieces by college presidents tells a somewhat different, and more nuanced, story. In looking at the op-eds from the first half of 2014, I did a word count on those that I had put in the database and could access the full text for such a count. (I did exclude one extreme outlier – a 2,500-word New Yorker piece.) Here’s a graph of all 200: Note the long, gentle curve from about 300 words to 1,800 words, showing a broad distribution of op-ed lengths. Conventional wisdom is, in fact, somewhat right: that 600-750 word “sweet spot” does lie near the middle of the graph, and accounts for over a quarter of the op-eds studied. However, almost as many are … [Read more...]

Obama’s College Rating System: Love It? Hate It? Now’s the Time to Speak Up.

If you do higher education related op-eds, there’s probably not a hotter topic for you to address right now than this one. The long-awaited – and long-feared by many – federal college rating system could become a reality in the next few months. Word is that the Department of Education is planning to release a draft of the federal rating concept this fall and a final version early next year, in time for the system to be in place for the 2015-16 academic year. Colleges’ ratings ultimately would be used as a factor in awarding some types of federal student aid. My guess is that – just as with immigration reform – the President will not want to complicate the mid-term election dynamics with an issue as divisive as the college rating system. That could mean the Department won’t release anything until after November 4, but then well may by early January so that a progress report can be included in the 2015 State of the Union address (tentatively January 20). If I’m … [Read more...]

Forbes: Hidden Treasure for Op-eds

In months of exploring opinion pieces by college presidents, I discovered some hidden gold, both in messages and media outlets.  However, my candidate for the most underappreciated and potentially valuable placement venue is Forbes magazine online.  Only a very few college PR people and their presidents have discovered this prime outlet. For a look at the demographics of the Forbes site, download the 2014 media kit for advertisers, a 22-page PDF loaded with stats.  In a nutshell, Forbes digital claims to now reach 26 million unique visitors a month with an average household income of more than $600,000 a year.  Visitors to the site have an average age of @45, and are skewed heavily (@65 to 35 percent) toward males.  Forbes also claims the site attracts more decisionmakers and influencers than the Wall Street Journal, CNNMoney, Businessweek, Bloomberg, and Economist sites. Now deep into serving as a leadership forum, the site features only a handful of college presidents as … [Read more...]

NACAC Career Path Study Cites Concerns Over “Sales Culture” in College Admission

External and internal forces in US higher education are creating concerns among professionals about a growing “sales culture” in college admission, according to new findings by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) in its “Career Paths for Admission Officers: A Survey Report.”  The survey of nearly 1,500 admission counselors, directors, deans and vice presidents suggested that demographic trends are increasingly creating strong pressures to meet enrollment goals in order to ensure their institutions’ financial health. Judy Phair worked with NACAC to develop the online survey.  She also conducted qualitative research through interviews with a subset of those surveyed, gathered essays from other participants, and prepared the final report which was released by NACAC in late July 2014. … [Read more...]