Party On, Dude: Combating the “Party School” Image

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Posted At: April 9, 2008 12:16 PM
by Katie Dageforde

Every year The Princeton Review publishes its “Best 366 Colleges,” complete with information about each college listed and various rankings, including a list of the top ten party schools in the nation. Last year the number one party school was West Virginia University, and the year before that it was University of Texas at Austin. Following the release of this list and others like it, reports about “the college drinking problem” start appearing in magazines and newspapers all over, usually directed toward whatever universities are on the published party school list.

The party school label can be a nightmare for the public relations department of any university. It’s difficult to position yourself as a prestigious university when the media only focus on how much your students drink. A recent study conducted by students at University of Georgia’s Grady College researches what type of an impact a party school image can have on prospective students and other outside audiences. Students used University of Texas at Austin as their test school and sent surveys via e-mail to fellow students at UGA asking questions about their perceptions of UT as both a “party school” and “good school.”

The students found that people who had personal interaction with UT (e.g., a relative/friend who attends there or receipt of information about the school through the mail) tended to have a more positive view of the school than people who were only exposed to it through the media. To follow up on these findings, the students also offered some evaluations on PR practices that could be effective in managing the reputation of a university.

1. Maintain good community relations. “Internal relations as well as community relations are the foundations of good public relations tactics.” Having a positive relationship with the community immediately surrounding the university will ultimately lead to a positive image overall. Local newspapers may pick up on stories about the university’s good works, and local businesses and alumni would be more willing to support the university both monetarily and through word of mouth by speaking highly of the school to others.

2. Use interpersonal communications tactics. “…Personal experiences allow a person to be invested in a university and to see many aspects of the university.” The UGA students suggested “having current students to call, write or chat with prospective students” as a way to promote a positive image produced by the school instead of the media. Personal interaction gives outside people, such as prospective students, a chance to feel like a part of the university before ever going to school there, and they will therefore be less likely to be influenced by negative stories reported by the media.

3. Bad news sells. The students found that the people who had a more negative view of UT were the ones who received most of their information through the media. This is probably because reporters know that stories about people behaving badly are more interesting. “Practitioners should pitch stories that emphasize a university’s academic achievement and student accomplishments in order to combat the ‘party school’ coverage that will inevitably occur.” While this approach is not necessarily personal, it will reach a wider audience, such as the people who receive most of their information through the media.

Source:

Chandler, Amy, Laura Jakstadt, Lindsey Loughman, Kristen Smith, Rachel Turner, and Heather Wrye. (2007). “Party Foul: An Analysis of Factors Contributing to a University’s Party School Image.” University of Georgia.

Why do you think it is important to understand the the influences of a party school image on outside publics?

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