It tantalizes the best millennial students with colorful and personalized brochures, screaming the student's name and interests.
It leaves behind under-utilized, costly textbooks and creates highly specific and cheaper materials for a course. And it churns out as-needed business cards, brochures, or football game programs in a pinch. Custom printing is a growing trend on college and university campuses today, and it's--mostly--all good. As institutions of higher education struggle to juggle expenses, custom printing is one solution for saving time and money, or even making money; attracting the best students and keeping them academically on target; and even making some professors quite proud of their course-pack creations. Yet, some administrators and faculty are still resisting them, perhaps due to old-school fears of leaving behind what they have always done.
Digital technology, which dumps the offset-press way of handling printing jobs, makes custom publishing efforts possible for IHEs. Offset presses use a set of plates, which create an image that stays constant; there's no cost-effective way to customize documents.
"Digital technology is the next technological evolution for the commercial print market," says Joe Bergeman, product manager for HP's Indigo Press 5000 and Indigo Press 1050 digital printers. "Every time a page is printed the image can change. There's incredible flexibility to generate personalized documents, and not just personalized in 'Hello, Mary.' You can put in pictures and have someone's financial portfolio with a pie chart of financial breakdowns."
Another plus with digital technology is that it can do "print on demand" orders--short-runs of printed material on quick turnaround. "If you look at the dynamics for the university market, people realize that a lot of the costs in maintaining documents revolve around waste," Bergeman adds. Many copies wind up getting thrown away, driving up the actual per-copy cost.
Here's a closer look at how custom printing is impacting the business of higher education.
Custom printing is transforming how universities are reaching out to students. "Some institutions are migrating more to custom printing ... as an overall recruitment and outreach expense," says Darren Wacker, an account manager for higher education at James Tower, a technology and communications solutions provider. "This millennial student of today expects to be spoken to and reached out to on an individual basis. Millennials have been coddled and supported throughout their lives. They have high expectations, and [custom printing] is a way the institution can meet that. ... It allows colleges to target individual students with almost laserlike precision."
It's not just students who appreciate that personal attention. Down in Georgia, mothers and fathers are just beaming with pride upon seeing the mail. It hits the mailbox at home with an explosion of excitement, says Joe Head, dean of Enrollment Services at Kennesaw State University. "Mom or Dad gets the mail and it has their son's name on it and how proud Mama is. Mama and Daddy and Grandmammy and Sissy and Bubba all see ... this neat thing."
The "neat thing" is the Student Recruitment Brochure created for the high school student in the household, urging him or her to attend KSU. The school's digital print program, more than a year in the works, appears to be paying off. "Most everyone is happy with it and is being served in some way," Head says. "It's cascading with attention."
But it took pushing and prodding to gain administration buy-in, Head says. The four-year college couldn't find a way to target both the 40-year-old going back to school and the 17-year-old with the same brochure and stay cost-effective. "It takes a long time to turn around a battleship," he notes. "Getting a brochure together is one of the most arduous tasks. It always winds up being a short-lived piece. What I was able to offer for the first time was to have a brochure they don't have to worry about," Head explains. "We are never without a brochure, ever. We can correct it on the fly."
The process allows prospective students to fill out a form on the KSU website with their name and address, as well as academic, team, club, and other interests. A personalized brochure, which allows for 388,000 different combinations, is laid out with Adobe InDesign software and then sent to the student over the internet.
The brochure screams the student's name and provides links related to the stated interests. On top of that, a brochure printed by a locally based company, Data Supplies, is mailed to the student's home. Every day, 55 to 300 brochures are distributed. Albertson College in Idaho uses HP printers on campus to publish and mail similar brochures asking, "Larry, where will you be next year?"
Does the digital generation really want to see information online and in print? A recent study, "Navigating Toward E-Recruitment: Ten Revelations About Interacting With College-Bound High School Students," reports that a significant portion of students do. Of 1,000 students surveyed, 44 percent would rather read brochures on paper instead of reading them online. And more top students actually prefer print--49 percent of those surveyed--than B and C students, according to the survey, which was conducted by James Tower, consultancy Noel-Levitz, and the National Research Center for College and University Admissions.
The results Kennesaw State leaders have seen are in the cost-savings department. A best practices case study by PODi, a nonprofit digital printing industry consortium, reports that the school saves 27.5 percent in printing and mailing costs per kit or packet, which includes a viewbook that gives a synopsis of the high points of the university, an undergraduate catalog, and insert sheets such as fee schedules, health or immunization forms, and a housing brochure. One-third fewer generic brochures are printed overall. KSU saves $4,000 per month using the new, customized, and focused approach that avoids printing brochures that have old or misleading information in them.
The approach makes the school appear savvy to students, Head says. "These 18-year-old Blackberry-smart and cell-phone-text-messaging-savvy kids know we're right there with them."
Custom printing can give colleges a competitive edge. "Everyone is fighting for the same pie and the pie is only so big," says Ed Danielczyk, worldwide industry marketing manager for higher education at Xerox Production Systems Group. "How do you appeal to them differently? Working with customers to create very personalized and customized information entices them to come to the university."
Head hesitates to say that KSU's custom printing efforts have directly affected enrollment growth--although 600 more first-time freshman enrolled this year over last year.
College students are also being impacted by the growth of custom publishing in their classrooms.
The more than 63,000 students at Florida Community College at Jacksonville shell out more cash for textbooks than for courses themselves. On top of that, administrators want instructors to focus less on what they will teach on a particular day and more on what they want students to know, how that will be measured, and how to get there, explains Donald Green, executive vice president for Instruction and Student Services at FCCJ.
Also, some classes are moving toward less lecture format by striking a balance between online work and lecture or all online work; these formats require a coherent relationship among the text, online materials, and CDs/DVDs for a course. Under this program, named Sirius Academics, teams of faculty build the course packs using materials that are not under copyright, a cost-saving measure given the expense and time of tracking down copyrights, which some universities still do, Green says.
"You have to ensure what you're using is either in the public domain, or that our teachers have actually written it or it's from their lectures," Green says. "We contract with our faculty to do these course packs and then the college owns them." In a humanities course, for example, photographs would be useful if students are looking at different types of architecture. If faculty members can take their own pictures, the school doesn't have to pay anything for them, Green says. "But if some faculty member says, 'We have to have this picture and this one, and it won't be the same without this one,' at that point we would pay some copyright fee. But what we're trying to do is keep that to a minimum."
When it's all compiled, FCCJ bids out the project to a graphic design company, which lays it out the way the school wants it. And Xerox helps; the company offers a service to scan the material on their equipment and print or reprint the resulting books at reduced costs, Danielczyk says.
"Depending on how many colors and volumes of textbooks, that's where you can save money," Green says. The finished product might lack the vibrant, robust colors and photographs of commercial textbooks, but they're full of content and easier to reproduce.
The books use inline tape binding or spiral, no-gloss white paper, are 8-1/2-by-11 inches, and are around 150 to 200 pages thick. This semester, the four courses offered under the program are General Psychology, Developmental Math, Developmental Reading, and Developmental Writing. "We started with those because they deal with our most endangered students," Green says. "I wanted our best faculty to design course materials for those students so we can increase their success rate." Another 12 general ed courses are in development.
Students save money and are still reaping the benefits of having materials with all pertinent information for the course. They pay $50 for each course's book, CDs, and online materials; the cost to produce the books can be $10 to $30.
The saved money from producing the no-frills books and not paying copyright fees goes toward scholarships for students. The program also gives faculty a sense of ownership. While similar course packs have been around for 15 years, the technology has been drastically enhanced with faster machines, higher resolution, color replacing black and white, and the 180-pages-printed-per-minute spit-out rate, as opposed to 135 pages, says Danielczyk of Xerox.
"Right now, with the four textbooks and the CDs, it costs us $50,000 per course to design it and get it printed and laid it out," Green says. "So it will take a couple of years before we start generating revenue. But after that, depending on the number of courses, this will turn into millions of dollars, probably in three to four years."
Speaking of revenue generators, there is football in Texas. At the University of North Texas, thousands head to Mean Green Eagles football games and buy 64-page programs for every home game. "We used to use a generic cover for every game and would overprint it with whatever information was needed for the game that particular week," says Jimmy Friend, director of Printing, Copy, and Mail Services at the school. "Now, if we're playing Idaho State, we print a different cover for every game in four-color. Most times it's an action shot of one of the players."
Faculty and staff can also go to the university's website and order printed material on demand. This operation, using HP technology, which is based in the University Printing Services facility, started about three years ago. The staff there can print everything from newsletters and brochures to business cards, postcards, and posters. And more than half the shop, which does 400 projects per month, is now digital.
The university community is encouraged to plan ahead and order only what they need, rather than putting in orders for large quantities as they've historically done, Friend says. "If you absolutely need more than that, we can easily go back and take the existing file and give the additional quantities instead of buying thousands and thousands of more pieces at an excessive cost only to recycle the product to the wastebasket."
The university prints personalized Freshman Orientation confirmation cards with instructions on where to park, which buildings to report to, and which group of students sees whom at a particular time.
"There has been a tremendous response and increase in attendance," Friend says.
Under the old way, it was cumbersome and even potentially dangerous using an offset printing press, which used chemicals for the negative film processing. It also guzzled time if a job needed to stop midway. Instead of waiting 15 minutes for a sheet of paper, it takes just a minute with the HP printer. Instead of wasting 100 to 200 sheets of paper per job, maybe three are wasted using HP. And it's a much better product, Friend says. As for the turnaround time, Friend estimates it's about 300 percent faster. He says, "It just gives you the flexibility."
Angela Pascopella is a Norwalk, Conn.-based writed who frequently covers education.