Focus group participants reacted to six words or phrases that staff members suggested as San Francisco State University descriptors.
The description of a university as excellent or high quality was met with skepticism. Participants encouraged institutions to "show not tell" quality by citing alumni achievement, faculty awards, and third-party rankings.
- Low cost, high quality
- Diverse student population
- Community involvement
- Commuter campus
- Urban University
Low cost and high quality did not go together for these students. They did not believe that high quality, implying up-to-date equipment and facilities and a strong faculty, could be achieved at a low cost.
San Francisco State was not associated with either excellence or low cost, high quality. Participants thought of State as a "good school" with strengths in particular academic programs or majors.
The University was clearly seen to have a diverse student population, reflective of San Francisco itself. Enrolled and prospective students appreciated the benefit of diversity, but saw it more as a value-added feature than an enrollment driver. It is important to recognize, as well, that students define diversity in many different ways. One student looked forward to perhaps meeting someone who spoke French; another liked the idea that there would be others on campus of her ethnic background.
The term "community involvement" was meaningless to the focus group participants. They speculated about the community's involvement with the university as athletic supporters. Furthermore, the term "community" did not resonate as an association with San Francisco State. Students reacted with questions such as "Which community?" or "It's a big city -- how can it be a community?"
The very real description of San Francisco State University as a commuter campus has no apparent benefit to students. Several spoke of the difficulty commuting to State and parking challenges. The reputation that on-campus housing is limited at State serves to reinforce the fact that San Francisco State University is a commuter school. Along with that definition comes an absence of social life.
Whether they liked the idea or not, participants agreed that San Francisco State University epitomized an urban university. The concept incorporates the attractive features of accessibility, affordability, opportunity, diversity, and convenience. It ultimately allows for discussion of other features, such as community involvement and quality.
The challenge in identifying a positioning platform for San Francisco State University involves changing constituents' perceptions from thinking about a "university of access" to a "university of choice," from an institution people attend because they can to one they attend because they want to.
The communications directive involves answering the question "What makes a great, urban university in San Francisco?" in a way that conveys benefit to many audiences.