Who's Buying? A Qualitative Content Analysis of Marketing in Higher Education and the Concept of Students-as-Consumers

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0001-5349-7055
Hanlon, Terrence, Education - School of Education and Human Development, University of Virginia
Pusser, Brian, CU-Leadshp Fndns & Pol Studies, University of Virginia

Student consumerism has been present in American higher education since the colonial colleges. As student demands grew from clamoring for better food to increased diversions and activities through the turn of the 20th century, institutions grew their efforts to market to students. This study investigated whether institutions employ the student-as-consumer metaphor in their marketing to prospective undergraduate students. Expanding on the literature related to college choice and marketing, this study utilized academic capitalism as a framework for a qualitative content analysis of the marketing channels of social media, viewbooks, and campus tours of six Virginia institutions. This study found that all six institutions featured the concept of students-as-consumers across all three marketing channels. The prevalence of the student-as-consumer metaphor varied among the three marketing channels, with campus tours representing more consumptive content, viewbooks representing more non-consumptive content, and social media representing a hybrid of the two. The six institutions also varied their use of the student-as-consumer metaphor with some institutions sharing more consumptive content, while others highlighted more academic aspects of their undergraduate experience. The findings of this study build on previous research regarding academic capitalism and the student-as-consumer metaphor by clarifying the institutional perspective on prospective students during the college choice process.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
student-as-consumer, academic capitalism, college choice, marketing, social media, viewbook, campus tour
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