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Viewbook Marketing of Women's Colleges Open Access

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Over the past several decades, women’s colleges have increasingly become coeducational or have closed completely due to declining enrollment. With just 37 women’s colleges remaining in the United States as of Fall 2016, the researcher explored how these institutions marketed to prospective students using viewbooks. This qualitative dissertation explored research questions pertaining to representations of organizational identity, academic and social life, benefits and challenges of single-sex education, and the construction of gender within the viewbooks. Using qualitative content analysis, the researcher analyzed viewbooks from the women’s colleges to understand how they addressed organizational identity, academic life, social life, single-sex education, and gender. This dissertation utilized the conceptual framework of Albert and Whetten’s (1985) work on organizational identity to ground the analysis. Using a critical lens, the researcher sought to make meaning of common content themes across viewbooks and critique the implications of this content. Ultimately the viewbook functions as a form of bricolage, where the edited version of the colleges’ offerings is presented to appeal to as many students as possible. Through this, the viewbooks from different institutions appear very similar, and the institutions promote features that are common among the majority of higher education institutions such as study abroad, internship opportunities, and academic programs. In the role as readers of viewbooks, students act as consumers who weigh the offerings and presentation of the colleges to decide whether to consider a particular college further with additional research or a campus visit. Despite the fact that this institutional type is struggling to recruit enough students each year, not every college promoted the benefits of single-sex education within the viewbooks. With all of the students in the viewbooks being female, the representation of the gender of students was mostly limited to students who appear traditionally feminine. There were a few students who presented as nontraditionally female, who had short hair and traditionally masculine clothing. Throughout this analysis, the colleges in this study are not acting as enough of advocates for the women’s college institutional type by omitting or not giving sufficient weight to discussions about their institutional mission as a women’s college. If these institutions are not able to recruit a sufficient amount of students in the coming years, it is inevitable that there will be additional women’s colleges that shift missions towards coeducation or close completely.

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