Bloggers give new window to colleges


Michael Chandler is a college student who's had it with parking tickets at Ball State University.

"I swear that's where most of BSU's money comes from," Chandler groused recently on his blog. "They hand'em out left and right, without a care in the world."

Far from getting irritated, Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., welcomes the blog. The school promotes the interactive online diary and several other unfiltered student blogs directly on its home page as a recruiting tool.

Colleges seeking a competitive edge are increasingly enlisting and sometimes paying student bloggers to chronicle their lives online.

The results run the gamut from insightful to boring, but the goal is the same: to find a new way to win the attention of the MySpace generation.

"We found it a much freer, less constricting, far more believable way of letting prospective students glimpse what was going on on campus," said Seth Allen, dean of admissions at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.

Universities balance giving the bloggers the freedom to speak their mind while maintaining some control over content.

Some, such as Dickinson, read postings before allowing them on the Web site to guard against offensive language. Others, like Ball State, say that defeats the purpose.

Prospective students can easily compare students' thoughts with comments on online networking sites like MySpace or, said Nancy Prater, Ball State's Web coordinator.

"If that doesn't match what they're saying on our blogs, there's a disconnect," Prater said.

Colleges from Colgate University in upstate New York, a small liberal arts campus, to the University of Texas, one of the country's largest universities, now include links to student bloggers on their home pages.

The emergence of the blogs is the next step in the evolution of admissions recruiting, said Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

First came glossy brochures. Next, huge Web sites packed with official information. Now, relatively uncensored blogs promote elements of university life, from the climbing wall at the rec center to the size of the rolls in the dining hall, he said.

Chris Smith, a sophomore at Ohio Dominican University, posts lively weekly descriptions of his life as a college baseball player. He gets $20 a posting and has been unafraid to hide his preference for playing ball over going to class or criticizing professors for assigning too much homework.

"Being in class is literally the last place you want to be at this time of the year," he wrote on April 12.

Ohio Dominican, a small Roman Catholic college in Columbus, is among schools that decided not to allow blog readers to post comments out of fear of compromising online security.

Traditionalists say that's not a real blog. More importantly, experts say, the best student blogs demand responses.

"The very best ones are well-written, honest, authentic voices shining through and fully interactive, meaning you can knock out a response to something you read right away," said Stephanie Geyer of the consulting firm Noel-Levitz.

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