About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Ethics of Higher Ed Marketing in the US

As I start looking for colleges/universities for my daughter in the US this year, I'm much more savvy about how US colleges/universities market themselves. My son, a 2 year student at Penn State, went through this last year. As a student/professor for 20 years at US colleges, I went into his higher ed search a bit cocky. After all, I knew what I was looking for in a student, I knew what my student profiles were in multiple departments, I understood the system for college credit transfer, financial aid, housing. But I was shocked when I got sucked into the higher ed marketing that goes on in the US.

First, there is the number of marketing brochures, emails, and personal phone calls a student receives. My son did very well on his SAT's (Standardized college entrance exams), even better on his AP exams (Advanced Placement standardized tests), and outstanding on his SAT II (or subject matter tests). His PSAT's that he took his second year in high school were also very good.

We knew he did well on these tests which placed him on schools' radar. However, what we didn't know (but we know now) is that most of the marketing was for those that placed above 50% on the SAT's. Schools also looked at the profiles (curriculum, ethnicity, etc...). We were very surprised when he received recruiting information from ivy league schools as we had never expected he could get into them (which in fact he could not). He was bombarded with information from Dartmouth, Vanderbilt, and University of Chicago in particular, all very competitive schools. Naive that I was, I now realize this barrage of information was targeted towards my husband and I. We looked at Dartmouth and convinced my son to apply to there and Vanderbilt as it appeared he had a chance to go to school there (even if my husband and I had to mortgage our house!). We paid the application fees to all of the schools the required it (often $60-100) and then waited. My son did not get into one of these prestigious schools.

Looking at their sites, many of these schools really did not need to advertise (which is why we were suckered in as why would they send information to a student they did not want?). So why did they? I have 2 theories: 1) to make money off of the application process. I you are charging $50-100 per application and you have 20,000 applications, that's a nice chunk of change you just earned. Not to mention, you now have your name out to a broad group through the marketing funded by the application fees. 2) In searches, the more competitive your school is, the more apt your school is to be at the top of search engines. How do you determine competitiveness? Using the ratio of # of applicants to #accepted. As a result, it is in the best interest for these prestigious schools to increase their number of applicants.

Now I look at websites in a new way. While some schools claim they do not use SAT's or ACT's to determine acceptance, if they publish the range of scores for the incoming class, and most are at the very top, then I say they do use those scores. Why publish the range if it is not going to be used? Why not have a range of standardized test scores from the students?

Do not get me wrong. My son has a perfect match with the school he currently attends. Academically, it is very strong, especially in Liberal Arts which is what he is studying. This, ultimately, is what parents and prospective students should be looking for. The cultures of those schools he applied to did not fit his style. However, I felt like someone who bought a bogus product from a latenight TV show when his rejection letters began to come in. These prestigious schools lured us in to applying for a school that would never fit my son's style, nor would he have the profile they were looking for. This, I feel, is very unethical.

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