By Elizabeth Zakaim
Members of this year’s graduating class will leave the College with their diplomas, senior portraits and four years of education under their belts, but one memento of their time at the College will be missing – yearbooks.
Due to low demand and a lack of incoming leadership, the College’s yearbook club, The Seal, is no longer an active organization on campus. The Seal’s editor-in-chief during her junior and senior years, Angela Arguson (’17), could not find a successor to lead the club before she graduated.
Ziyi Wang, president of the Student Finance Board and a senior marketing major, said the club has also been in debt for years.
The College is not the only school that has said goodbye to its yearbook in recent years. In the past decade, there has been a decline in the production of college yearbooks nationwide, according to Steven Chappell, the College Media Association’s yearbook committee chairman and professor of media and journalism at Northwest Missouri State University.
Schools like Towson University in Maryland published its last yearbook in 2009, and the University of Maryland printed its last copy in 1986, according to a 2016 Baltimore Sun article.
Chappell pointed out that this trend is specific to colleges, not high schools. The culture in high schools, where there are fewer students who are also familiar with each other, is vastly different than in colleges.
“A sense of community disappears,” Chappell said. “You’re no longer in a confined space 10 hours a day – there’s less of a sense of belonging and the yearbook isn’t as important.”
The yearbook is dying out across college campuses for more reasons than the lack of a strong sense of community.
“It’s a quick fix for universities with budget problems,” Chappell said. “Yearbooks are not cheap to print.”
The Seal usually sold 125 to 175 copies a year, though there are about 1,600 to 1,700 graduates in each class, according to Donna Shaw, adviser of the The Seal for 10 years and professor of journalism. Last year, the yearbook started at $90 for the early purchase discount, and then increased to $100 by the end of the year. Shaw imagined it would have been the same for this year as well.
Students have found a less expensive alternative to the yearbook that also functions as a more convenient alternative –– social media.
“Students think, ‘I’ll always have that connection, I don’t need a yearbook for that,’” Chappell said.
The Signal conducted a Facebook survey to hear from students of this year’s graduating class. Out of 40 participants, 46 percent reported that they wished they had a yearbook as a way of remembering their time at the College, and 54 percent said it was either too expensive to bother purchasing or that they’d rather keep in touch with friends through social media.
Arguson, who started working as a layout editor for The Seal during her sophomore year, recalled how little interest there was for the yearbook.
“It was definitely a little disappointing when it came to trying to market and sell the yearbook and seeing that our work did not get much recognition,” Arguson said.
However, after obtaining her bachelor’s degree in interactive multimedia, Arguson understood why there was such little interest in the yearbook.
“I do think we have lost some sense of personal touch that cannot be recreated virtually or online, which is why I saw value in the yearbook,” Arguson said. “But we rely so much more on technology – it’s just the times we live in.”
Some students are upset that there won’t be a yearbook this year. Michael Battista, a senior journalism and professional writing major, was looking forward to having a yearbook come graduation.
“I always felt having a hard copy or at the very least the online files saved to your computer is the better option,” Battista said.
For Battista, the best option would be to have both an electronic and physical copy of his memories at the College, but he acknowledged that little else compares to print content. Technology changes with time, but print stays constant.
“People in 2004 probably thought, ‘man, MySpace is going to be around forever,’ and look how that turned out,” Battista said.
Shaw agreed that the demise of the yearbook could be due to a lack of foresight into the future of technology.
“Who knows what will come after Facebook,” Shaw said. “Who knows how we will stay in touch with old friends 30, 40 or 50 years from now? The yearbook may be retro, but decades from now it will still be somewhere in your house and you can pick it up and read through it.”
Social media may be the quickest and cheapest replacement for a yearbook for the College’s class of 2018, but Arguson hopes that the College does not bury its yearbook for good.
“It is a loss in the sense that the TCNJ tradition of issuing a yearbook is over,” Arguson said. “The Seal has been around for years.”
The Seal was first published in 1911. It is the oldest club on campus, second only to The Signal, according to Dave Conner, the College’s director of student involvement.
Even though students are running with the technological tide for now, Arguson still believes the club has potential to make a comeback.
“If interest for a yearbook peaks again in the future and the trend returns,” Arguson said, “I think it’d be worth a shot to revive it.”