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College Recruiting Mass Marketing Mailers Fill Mailboxes

February 7, 2018

The stacks of college recruiting mailers started last year and continued unabated into this fall. For fun we saved every envelope, flyer and personalized poster and postcard. We saved our favorite, the wrapped stack of personalized letters and notes, paper clipped in bundles, and topped with a “handwritten” post-it note exclaiming “Come Visit!”. We filled a bin with these stacks of mass produced marketing materials and wondered – how much marketing money is being expended to drive college applications?

Untangling what colleges spend on recruiting is a tricky exercise. Reviewing the University of California Annual Financial Report it’s difficult to tell where marketing and recruiting expenses are buried. Is it somewhere in the $1.4B allocated to “Institutional support” or possibly the $1.2B spent on “Student services”?

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The cost of marketing to students is not a new issue. Way back in Oct 1979 The Atlantic wrote: “College recruitment and admissions is big business. The total costs are impossible to calculate under standard college accounting systems, since such expenses are not centralized in the salaries and other direct costs of the Admissions Office, but are spread across a variety of cost centers, from the Alumni Office to the publications budget.” (source)

DSC09306An analysis of Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities found that recruiting costs per student ranged from $445 to $2,212 per student, as competing for students to fill seats becomes more difficult. (source)

One reason colleges spend so much to market to students is that, contrary to the perception of many students, most colleges accept most applicants. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), “In terms of institutions, only 19.7 percent admit fewer than 50 percent of applicants, while 36 percent admit 50 to 70 percent of applicants.” (source)

Highly selective colleges are the exception – not the norm – so the flood of marketing materials (and inevitable impact on college tuition fees) is likely to continue.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 8, 2018 10:40 am

    It’s pretty insane how much they spend. Do they send them to every child who takes the psat or is it based on some criteria?

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