USF ads aim to fix public identity crisis 

click to enlarge Name recognition: University of San Francisco officials said the publicity campaign cost less than $1 million. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • Name recognition: University of San Francisco officials said the publicity campaign cost less than $1 million.

The University of San Francisco is almost as old as The City. It is the alma mater of former mayors and other local politicians. But faculty, administrators and students are frustrated that many San Franciscans don’t even recognize its initials.

“Oh, you mean UCSF? Great medical school,” joked David Macmillan, the university’s vice president for communications and marketing.

This month, Macmillan said, USF is challenging the “acronym confusion” with its first advertising campaign highlighting the university. With snappy headlines on billboards, buses and transit shelters, Macmillan hopes the university can become a more recognizable brand.

“Our research really confirmed that we are not as well-known in our city as we perhaps once were,” he said. “We felt it was important to be visible and to set ourselves apart from all the other universities that are out there.”

The new ad campaign, which Macmillan said was assembled for less than $1 million by local agency Hub Strategy, comes at a time when things are looking up at USF. Application numbers soared by 31 percent last year, to more than 12,000 for fewer than 1,200 freshman slots. USF recently purchased a downtown building, it will open a new science center next year and it has relocated three of its branch campuses to better digs.

“Amazingly, we found funds to build in this environment,” said Provost Jennifer Turpin. “There’s really a sense of excitement, a sense that the university has never been better.”

That contrasts with the dire straits in which public colleges find themselves, as Sacramento continues to cut funding for the University of California, California State University and community college systems. City College of San Francisco and San Francisco State  University have cut courses and may turn away students next year.

Turpin said USF was not immune from economic reality. The university’s endowment took a $20 million hit in the recession, and students now need more financial aid, even as state funding for grants is threatened.

“We’re all having to deal with the economic realities our students are facing,” she said. “We need to have a variety of scenarios lined up in case Cal Grant funding is cut.”

But the woes faced by higher education in the state also represent an opportunity for USF.

Lex Wochner, a senior majoring in philosophy and the president of the student senate, said for some students USF might be no more expensive than the UC system. And students may take longer to graduate from public universities, as some required classes are now offered less frequently.

Wochner, who said he was drawn to USF in part by its setting and its Jesuit values,  said students, many of whom participated earlier this school year in a contest to design their own ads, were enthusiastic about the campaign.

“I think the university’s been preparing to take on a larger role,” he said. “The advertising campaign is really just a way of telling people that.”

College in brief

157 Years old
9,000 Approximate enrollment
$38,490 Undergraduate tuition
65 percent  Students receiving some form of financial aid
$29 million Financial aid budget
$213 million Endowment

Source: USF

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