An important element of the nonprofit sector is this country's colleges and universities. These institutions are faced with the classic marketing problems of enrollment decline, slow growth, changing buying patterns, increased competition and increased expenditures.
Despite the current need and wealth of marketing information available to universities and colleges, the literature indicates that most of these institutions have not adopted a marketing orientation.
In his 1979 dissertation, Blackburn provided data indicating the level of use of sixteen specific marketing techniques and their perceived effectiveness at 446 colleges and universities across the country. The results are rather curious--Blackburn noted that many of the techniques rated as the most effective were also rated low in popularity. Examples of broad institutional usage of marketing in 1979 were still rather isolated and incomplete.
Goldgehn (1982 and 1984) developed a procedure and instrument to utilize in conducting a marketing evaluation of a college or university. While a number of institutions have successfully utilized her "Marketing Opportunity Analysis" in pinpointing institutional strengths and weaknesses and as a precursor to developing a marketing plan, she found that upper administrative support for marketing was still rare.
In the years since these studies we've seen continued interest in and even acceptance of the idea of marketing in the higher education environment. But what, if any, progress has been made in actually adopting specific marketing techniques such as publicity, advertising, advertising research, market research, program development, pricing, market segmentation, market positioning, and target marketing? How effective have these techniques been? Does their use and effectiveness differ based on institutional size, region, and institutional type? If these techniques are not being adopted, why not? What can be done to facilitate the acceptance of these marketing techniques? This research study attempted to answer the above questions.
A questionnaire was sent to the admissions directors at 2,136 higher education institutions in the U.S. and abroad who are members of AACRO (American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers). The members of the AACRAO represent a wide variety of academic institutions from the United States and abroad. This paper will report the results from the U.S. only.
Overall, the admissions directors who responded to the survey represent a broad spectrum of institutions of higher education. A response rate of 38.79 was achieved.
The admissions directors were asked to report their usage of fifteen marketing techniques. Users were asked to rate the perceived effectiveness of the technique on a Likert-type scale and non-users were asked to identify their reasons for not using the technique.
The results reveal a very dramatic increase in the usage of marketing techniques--and their perceived effectiveness--in the last nine years. However, widespread acceptance of most of the marketing techniques still does not exist in 1988. For example, while publicity and target marketing ranked first and second with usage rates in the ninetieth percentile, market segmentation and advertising ranked third and fourth, and achieved usage scores no greater than 77.7%.
The key reasons marketing techniques are not adopted include: a lack of a priority for marketing, a lack of administrative leadership and a lack of implementation. While cost was also a factor, it did not figure as prominently as the above factors.
Admissions standards appear to be the biggest factor in determining usage. Typically there is an inverse relationship between the usage of the marketing techniques and the rigor of the admissions standards. A unique exception to this is the use of market segmentation which is used by the most competitive institutions at a higher rate than any other category of institutions controlled by admissions standards.
Private Four-year institutions tend to use the techniques at a slightly higher rate than public Four-year institutions. Overall, they tend to use most of the same techniques with the exception of pricing. Public institutions, as would be expected, use pricing at a lower rate. Curiously, the private non-elite colleges and universities lag in their usage of pricing and many other techniques.
The results of this study can be used as a starting point in evaluating a number of important issues. First, how can an institution1S organization chart be altered so that marketing can be better integrated throughout the organization? How can administrators (outside the admissions office> become more familiar with the benefits of marketing? And, finally, what can be done to improve leadership and the ability to implement changes at our country's colleges and universities?
Goldgehn, L. (1988). The integration of marketing in colleges and universities in the United States. Working paper (University of San Francisco. Institute for Nonprofit Organization Management); no. 3. San Francisco, CA: Institute for Nonprofit Organization Management, College of Professional Studies, University of San Francisco.