Magazine Publishing Improvement: Minnesota State College and Universities - Bronze Medal

Category 23A: Magazine Publishing Improvement
Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities magazine

Contact: Linda Kohl, associate vice chancellor for public affairs, Wells Fargo Place, 30 7th St., East, Suite 350, St. Paul, MN 55101, Phone: (651) 296-9595, e-mail:

Objectives: The objective of the Minnesota State Colleges & Universities magazine is to raise awareness and understanding of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system among the state’s opinion leaders and business leaders. The system of 32 public colleges and universities was created in 1995 through a merger of three separate higher education systems – state universities, community colleges and technical colleges. While a few of the 32 member institutions publish alumni or general interest magazines, there was no publication vehicle to highlight the unique and exciting things going on at the 53 campuses within the system.

Reason for new format: From 1997 to 2005, a newsletter, Performance, was published twice a year for distribution to the system’s 17,000 faculty and staff. An evaluation of that publication determined that the method of distribution, which was to ship large quantities to each institution and rely on the campus mail operation to get it into staff and faculty mailboxes, was not working. Very few faculty members recalled seeing the newsletter. In addition, the tabloid format and 8- to 12-page average size limited the length of stories and number and size of photographs that could be included.

In fall 2005, the system’s public affairs office, which published the newsletter, made a decision to transform it into a magazine aimed at important external audiences – the state’s opinion leaders and business leaders. These audiences, which include elected and appointed officials, civic leaders in communities across the state, prominent employers and others, were the people who influence the governor and state legislators, who in turn determine the system’s state appropriation and funding for building projects on the campuses.

In January 2006, the system’s board of trustees adopted a new mission statement: “The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system of distinct and collaborative institutions offers higher education that meets the personal and career goals of a wide range of individual learners, enhances the quality of life for all Minnesotans and sustains vibrant economies throughout the state.” This became a guiding editorial direction for the magazine – to find and write about distinctive programs and services, to draw attention to innovative and unique collaborations between institutions, and to illustrate how the colleges and universities enhance the state’s quality of life and contribute to the state’s economy.

With a 28- to 32-page format, the magazine offered ample room to be able to include news from all 32 member institutions, something that couldn’t be done in the newsletter format. Among the magazine’s standing features is the “Campus Roundup”, modeled after the state-by-state roundup in USA Today. A short item about every college and university in the system is included in each issue. The format also allows for two full-page “house ads” about the system and the system’s foundation in each issue.

The system’s Public Affairs office, which is located within the Office of the Chancellor in an office building in downtown St. Paul, has seven staff members. In addition to the magazine, the office produces an annual 42-page system-wide viewbook that is distributed to 125,000 juniors and seniors throughout Minnesota and neighboring states, system brochures and publications, speeches and presentations for the chancellor and trustees, and advertising and marketing for the system. The office also manages the system Web site and organizes special events such as the system’s annual State Fair exhibit and the National College Fair. No additional staff was added for the magazine.

Four staff members serve as editors and contributing writers to the magazine, generally writing each issue’s major feature stories. All work on the magazine on a part-time basis, squeezed between other duties. Freelance writers and professional photographers are hired for shorter stories.

A significant amount of the content is contributed by public relations professionals at the member institutions and carefully edited to fit the magazine’s style and space requirements. Campus representatives submit stories and photos or ideas for stories that can be assigned to a writer. Magazine editors seek to maintain a mix of stories from two-year community and technical colleges and four-year state universities, and from the different geographic regions of the state. They also try to make sure that each issue reflects the diversity of the colleges and universities within the system.

Frequency, average pages per issue, circulation
The magazine is published twice a year, in the fall and spring semesters. Issues are 28 to 32 pages in length. Ten thousand copies are printed of each issue, of which about 5,000 are mailed to individual recipients. The other 5,000 are distributed upon request. Often, a president or public relations staff member of a college or university that is featured in the magazine will request a number of copies to distribute to their foundation boards, alumni and other supporters. The system’s chancellor also distributes copies to groups and individuals with whom he meets, including legislators.

Budget, average cost per issue
The budget for the magazine is about $80,000 per year, not including staff salaries. The average cost per issue is $39,567; however, that includes the design of the prototype. Design costs for the first issue were about $4,000 more than for the second issue. Major cost categories are photography (average cost per issue: $9,700); design (average cost per issue: $13,000); and printing (average cost per issue: $12,500). The remaining costs are for freelance writers and a freelance proofreader. The unit cost is an average of $3.95. The cost of the magazine start-up was partially offset by discontinuing the Performance newsletter, which had a budget of about $16,000 per year.

Response and/or results
Response to the magazine has been overwhelmingly positive. Campus public relations staff is eager to get stories about their institution into the magazine. The governor’s office requested that copies of the first issue, with a story about the system’s trustees going on a trade mission to China, be sent to the 200 or so dignitaries that the delegation met with in China. The cover story of the second issue was the system’s filmmaking programs, and a prominent member of the filmmaking community asked that copies be sent to members of the boards of directors major film organizations in Minnesota. A future issue will include a readership survey to gather feedback on the magazine.