The difference between “The” and “A”: Dordt’s marketing team and rankings

Hannah Kuperus—Staff Writer

In the span of five days from September 14 to September 18, the Dordt marketing team released four statements detailing the various collegiate rankings and achievements from the fall semester. From tying for fourth best regional college in the Midwest, to ranking second for best undergraduate teaching in the Midwest, to the largest ever fall enrollment, and to the coveted number one spot in student engagement, Dordt had many reasons to celebrate. But how they presented some information, specifically their tying for fourth as the best regional college in the Midwest according to a US News and World Report ranking, caused a debate from students and others on social media.

Dordt’s initial Instagram post, which stated Dordt was “the top university in Iowa,” soon read, “a top university in Iowa.” This edit from “the” to “a”, however, did not stop the flow of comments about the truthfulness of the claim, especially because Dordt did not alter their graphic that included a large “#1” looming behind Covenant Hall. This flow of comments led Dordt to eventually comment on their post, writing, “Hi everyone! Thanks for all your feedback about rankings. To clarify, our graphic refers to the ‘Best Regional Colleges Midwest’ ranking, where we were named a top university in Iowa and also tied for fourth within this category. We understand your confusion and will strive to be clearer when speaking about future rankings.”

Some commenters remained dissatisfied, with one Instagram user expecting, “a more honest and visible response if Dordt has any sense of honor.” Sarah Moss, director of marketing and communication at Dordt, stated that the incident impacted the way Dordt marketing approached the other releases from

In the span of five days from September 14 to September 18, the Dordt marketing team released four statements detailing the various collegiate rankings and achievements from the fall semester. From tying for fourth best regional college in the Midwest, to ranking second for best undergraduate teaching in the Midwest, to the largest ever fall enrollment, and to the coveted number one spot in student engagement, Dordt had many reasons to celebrate. But how they presented some information, specifically their tying for fourth as the best regional college in the Midwest according to a US News and World Report ranking, caused a debate from students and others on social media.

Dordt’s initial Instagram post, which stated Dordt was “the top university in Iowa,” soon read, “a top university in Iowa.” This edit from “the” to “a”, however, did not stop the flow of comments about the truthfulness of the claim, especially because Dordt did not alter their graphic that included a large “#1” looming behind Covenant Hall. This flow of comments led Dordt to eventually comment on their post, writing, “Hi everyone! Thanks for all your feedback about rankings. To clarify, our graphic refers to the ‘Best Regional Colleges Midwest’ ranking, where we were named a top university in Iowa and also tied for fourth within this category. We understand your confusion and will strive to be clearer when speaking about future rankings.”

Some commenters remained dissatisfied, with one Instagram user expecting, “a more honest and visible response if Dordt has any sense of honor.” Sarah Moss, director of marketing and communication at Dordt, stated that the incident impacted the way Dordt marketing approached the other releases from the week, including ranking second for best undergraduate teaching in the Midwest and first in student engagement for five years in a row.

“[We were] very explicit about the fact that student engagement is a category… We always explain that, but we made sure to really state that [this time], so people clearly can tell it’s one of a number of categories within all of the Wall Street Journal, and Times Higher Education Ranking.” Moss said. “If they wanted to dig deeper into the other categories, they’re welcome to do so, but we primarily promote the student engagement category.”

“And it’s similar [with teaching]. We are pretty detailed in what we explained in the press release itself, mentioning the fact that it’s the best undergraduate teaching regional colleges Midwest category because they do look at… other parts of the country as well for that… ranking,” Moss said.

For students at Dordt, the emphasis on rankings may feel trite after ranking number one in student engagement for five years, but the rankings matter for a different reason. According to Moss, rankings are helpful for high school students as they begin their college search. These rankings help students find colleges that value the same aspects they do.

“If [a student] wants to go to a place where faculty are really bought into educating students and want to get to know you and help you learn and think critically, then being ranked number one in student engagement is really helpful.” Moss said.

While Moss acknowledged these rankings may not be the reason students look into Dordt, she has been told by the Admissions Office that people ask about the rankings on visits.

“People recognize it as something special about this place… I think the longevity of it… it’s just unique.” Moss said. “So it is definitely something that we hear about from prospective students. They’re like, ‘Oh, that’s kind of cool.’”

While Moss emphasizes the efforts of Marketing to be more clear in their press releases and social media postings, one may wonder if this only refers to the wording of the post rather than the graphic associated with it.

On Friday, September 18, Dordt posted about their rank as number one in student engagement for the fifth year in a row, yet the picture they used on Instagram proved more reminiscent of the talent show or NCDC, rather than of student engagement, which Moss defines as, “engaging students in their learning.” While events such as NCDC or the talent show may look more fun and exciting to prospective students, clearer marketing might have included a scene from Dordt’s classrooms such as a group in discussion, a lab based science course, or even a history class in simulation. It remains to be seen how the response to Dordt’s Instagram post on September 14 will continue to affect future postings and press releases.

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