Montana State University and the University of Montana are both wooing high school students to boost enrollment, but local newspapers have little or no stake in the race.
“Generally, we would not cover the universities because they are out of our readership area,” said Dwight Harriman, news editor of The Livingston Enterprise. The paper’s main focus is news from Park County. When it does cover university business, it’s usually related to MSU, which is closest geographically.
The Sidney Herald, Havre Daily News, Miles City Star and the Glendive Ranger Review have similar philosophies when it comes to covering colleges in the state.
Most high school students look elsewhere to find college information, at any rate. They rely on college fairs, visits from college recruiters, social media or the high school paper, Danielle Ray, a counselor at Custer County District High School in Miles City, said.
Montana’s institutions of higher education have adapted to the media habits of their prospective customers. Miles Community College, for example, is mostly active on Facebook, with several pages related to various aspects of college life.
“When we conduct our marketing effectiveness surveys at our orientations, newspapers are well behind social media and television advertising when it comes to how students learn about MCC,” said Jessie Dufner, vice president of enrollment and student success.
Thomas Crady, vice president for enrollment and student affairs at the University of Montana, said newspaper coverage affects the opinions of parents more than those of high school students when considering different colleges. “A lot of students don’t look at newspapers anymore,” Crady said. “We’ve had to decide, do we send nice glossy printouts or do we use social media or text the students.”
The disconnect between teenagers and local print publications doesn’t bode well for the ad sales of local papers. Take the University of Montana — according to Crady, it receives a lot of website traffic and is less likely to place ads in newspapers than in the past.
Ashley Roness is a Montana native, born and raised in the plains of Glasgow, Montana. She attended the University of Montana to obtain her journalism degree in 2015. She became a general reporter and page editor of the Miles City Star.