Social media scholarships admirable, but not perfect

an advocate editorial

Since the start of Anne Blackhurst’s presidency, social media has become a substantial university initiative. As the school struggles to maintain and increase enrollment, it seems only natural administration would turn to its newly found strong suit.

From #AnneFan to #DragonPride, hashtags seem to accompany virtually every online communication between administration and its stakeholders. In late January, the university announced its launch of the #BeADragon scholarship campaign, an initiative part creativity challenge, part popularity contest. It’s really a clever idea — the school gets publicity, and students get incentive to come here. A little innovation certainly won’t hurt the university. But not everything about the scholarship seems quite right. While MSUM is offering four commendable $2,500 scholarships awarded based on entrant creativity, it’s also offering two less-admirable $1,000 scholarships.

The campaign’s off to a decent start. The school awarded Moorhead High School senior Camilla Herbel one of the larger scholarships Feb. 19 after she tweeted a stirring video discussing what motivated her to pursue a degree in teaching at MSUM. One can only hope the remaining three recipients of the $2,500 scholarships will approach the challenge with such effort and grace. As for the $1,000 winners, it’s unlikely their contributions will be so pristine.

Two $1,000 scholarships will be awarded in March to participants who receive the most likes or retweets on their #BeADragon posts. This sect of the contest is based entirely on social media prowess. The idea of not-yet high school graduates winning scholarships for essentially retaining Twitter followers is absurd — it’s almost impossible to come up with a more arbitrary reason to award scholarship funds.

If this portion of the contest was instead exclusively targeting students interested in fields like communications and business, where social media clout is meaningful, the concept would make more sense. But, alas, this is not the case. Instead, entrants are likely to win the loot by successfully squeezing likes out of their less-than-discerning Internet pals. When a high school student is particularly good at social media, it’s doubtful it’s because they’re self-branding especially well — it’s more likely they’re wealthy or good-looking.

While the campaign is seemingly designed for any prospective student, in application, it’s set to provide an unfair advantage to more creative types and those with considerable online charisma. But knowing how to use Twitter is no indication of academic merit or work ethic. It seems unlikely most entries are made with Twitter’s complex analytics and statistical trends in mind. If the contest was designed to applaud prospective students’ practical academic knowledge, it might demand more than a singularly successful tweet.

Such low standards diminish the value of an otherwise innovative scholarship contest and marketing strategy. It’s funny the contest, developed to attract representatives of MSUM’s core values of grit, heart and humility, would set such lacking requirements and behold successes fueled by such arbitrary popularity.

The #BeADragon campaign is a noble effort on administration’s part. The hashtag creates an unparalleled dialogue between administration and prospective students while contributing to a positive and expansive social media presence for the school. But spending $2,000 on 280 characters in pursuit of likes and retweets alone only makes MSUM seem desperate and spammy.

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