Higher Ed Marketing: Caveat Emptor

A ruling by Judge Rudolph Contreras of the Federal District Court for Washington, D.C. last week set back efforts by the U.S. Department of Education to deny federal financial aid dollars to the lowest performing for-profit schools. For the time being, the marketplace will decide — students and parents matched against hyperbolic for-profit higher ed marketing machines.

While the for-profit operators and their Wall Street investors have long understood the power of higher ed marketing, the response by the vast community of endowment-driven colleges and universities remains fragmented. It’s easy for most colleges to disregard the concerns of students and families at the lower rungs of achievement and income — those most vulnerable to the false claims of education value and return on investment. But higher ed marketing is really conversation marketing in the age of social, SEO and PR 2.0 optimization. If the best schools in the country decided to raise the level of conversation as it related to program quality and student outcomes, everyone — even students who find themselves off to the margins of the college admissions process — would benefit.