University Image and Branding

Posted on July 17, 2008. Filed under: NODA Internship |

Today in our Student Involvement staff meeting I learned about San Jose State’s new image and branding campaign. All and all there is a 60 page booklet that shows the one and only logo that student organizations can use on their publications as well as the font they must use for all text documents, as well as the required he color schemes and patterns to be used. The report garnered a great deal of laughter from the group as a whole, but there was little discussion about why the changes were being brought about. Granted a discussion was unnecessary because the changes had already been done, but I could have definitely used more info. From what I gather the decision has been in the works for over 10 years now and many other schools have similar booklets with similar regulations. In other words, this is the wave of the future in higher education, not the oddity it at first seems to be. While I do not feel knowledgeable enough to make any comments on whether or not this imaging and branding is inherently bad or good, I do want to voice my feelings on the matter.

It seems to me that one of the main reasons for all the new regulations is so San Jose State becomes more like other well-known and well-respected universities that have already gone through similar processes. The administration wants San Jose State to be a leader among U.S. institutions and as such wants the one and only logo to be recognized around the world as a sign of high quality education. Of course, none of this sounds bad in theory, but my question is what else is being done to promote the improvement of academic and extra-curricular activities to make SJSU a leader? Could the money that has been spent on advertising agents who pick out the best fonts, color schemes, and logos for the school be better spent on programs that actually create academic excellence and student involvement? From what I can gather the California state system (like many state systems) is losing money and programs are being cut and/or seriously underfunded. Isn’t developing a logo that represents high quality education before creating a high quality education putting the cart before the horse?

And even if my above concern can be nullified, even if SJSU could magically have all the money in the world and all the prestige of an Ivy League school, I’m left wondering what all these new regulations really do for student learning and development. Isn’t that what higher education is all about? Isn’t that the end game? If a student organization makes a poster that attracts new students to attend one of its events does it matter that the poster doesn’t follow the proper color scheme? If a univeristy offical doesn’t use the proper font on an email does it really take away the authenticity of the message?

Ultimately I think that this trend is just another example of higher education being seen and promoted as a commodity. Instead of choosing a college based on its programs of study, its extra-curricular activities, its academic standing… students are being encouraged to choose a school based on what image comes into their minds when they look at a logo.

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One Response to “University Image and Branding”

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Great post. I think you’re gaining insight into the many circuits that drive institutions these days, particularly state institutions. In a situation where the state abdicates or reduces support of higher ed for whatever reason (political, economic, philosophical, legislative), schools have to think more like businesses. When you are in the trenches like we are, image may seem less relevant than the substance of learning, but image often drives donations amongst alumni, corporations, and other constituents. It can inspire feelings of pride and nostalgia that hopefully generate giving that can supplement the coffers of the institution — which in turn hopefully yields an influx of finances to the specific academic enterprises within the institution.

It is tough to avoid the myopia that comes with working in a student support area about which you are passionate. It seems logical to me why we should get funding for an additional position for the Academic Success Center or why money should be allocated to pay for instructors in first year experiences. Yet, our pleas are undoubtedly stacked up against those of other units on campus. I had a really interesting situation this year where I was involved in drafting two proposals to the provost, both of which included requests for funding, and both of which would be competing against each other in the provost’s decision making. That experience really illuminated the complexity involved with administrating a state institution.

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