How College Marketing and the Marketing of Colleges and Universities Institutions Has Failed
Today, the U.S. consumer has made adjustments to the faltering economy by altering their spending habits, while many of the nation’s largest companies and brands struggle as a result. Many are receiving federal bailout money, others are declaring bankruptcy – and only a few are looking for ways to win and grow market share.
Those aiming higher than the rest understand that, no matter the economic situation or the category, a few always emerge as the victors by taking market share from competitor brands.
For that reason, Stealing Share commissioned a national research study of U.S. consumers to get a snapshot of what consumers were thinking in this new economy and how it affects their actions now and in the future. The survey asked consumers about their habits, decision-making processes and beliefs about themselves and the world at large. It also asked questions about many specific industries, including education.
The most powerful data from the research project was that 70% of Americans believe “the U.S. is falling behind.” How Americans define the ways in which U.S. is falling behind is expressed in several ways: Anger at the banking industry, automakers being out of touch with consumers, choosing airlines strictly on price, distrusting insurance companies and a host of other reasons, primarily emotional. (Read about marketing Universities Here)
But a general dissatisfaction with the U.S. educational system also plays a role. When asked if they agree with this statement – “I believe kids are more poorly educated today than in years past” – 62.6% of Americans agreed.
What’s most shocking is that those most likely to be in the educational system right now also agreed. Of those under the age of 29, 59.5% of them believed it to be true.
The American educational system has, of course, been under fire for many years now, especially as U.S. test scores – such as those in the Progress in International Reading Literacy – are passed by countries like Russia, Italy and Sweden.
It should be noted that the U.S. is far above the international average, but being less than the best educated is not how most Americans like to see themselves.
Therefore, even among the greatest influencers in our society, and especially in higher education, they perceive education in America as not being what it once was.
Among those with a household income of more than $100,000, 65.4% agreed U.S. education is worse than it used to be, and even among those most highly educated – those with a college degree – 61.5% agreed.
For universities, those results are a mixed blessing. One hand, the research responses were most likely directed at K-12 education and not higher education. Also, the more influential may feel the need to support funding to improve the situation.
However, it’s our belief Americans put education all in one bucket. Those with the most influence believe higher education is not worth their time like it once was and the educational institutions are perceived be split between the haves and have-nots.
College enrollment has risen in recent years, with about 45% of those between 18-24 enrolled in or have completed college in 2008. The alarming tread, though, is that higher education is becoming more expensive and rising 4.2% each year.
Considering all that – education is valued (high enrollment rate), but costs are rising amidst an economic downturn and Americans believe they are not getting the quality of education they once did – how are universities attracting new students?
There are generally two ways universities market to increase awareness and preference: 1, Have a nationally known sports team. Consider the example of George Mason University in Virginia. Its men’s basketball team advanced to the Final Four, a Cinderella story to end all Cinderella stories, in 2006 and the university’s enrollment jumped.
Failing that (or in addition to), universities trot out stock marketing that does nothing to create preference for that individual university, just for the college experience in general. The messages could be delivered by any university.
So, how do students choose? Location and costs are the primary motivators, although individual programs and scholarships at universities play a role, especially at the graduate level.
But true preference?
Tough to get when most Americans believe education is not what is used to be. But not impossible.
You can read a more in-depth study of the college and university market here.