Higher education branding: importance of and differences between private and public university students’ views

Document Type

Conference publication

Publication details

Spake, DF, Mullen, WE, Joseph, M & Wilde, S 2010, 'Higher education branding: importance of and differences between private and public university students’ views,' in BA Van der Schee (ed.), Marketing Management Association 2010 Fall Educators’ conference proceedings, 29 September - 1 October, Indianapolis, Indiana, pp. 82-83.

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Peer Reviewed



With intense competition in higher education for qualified students and a slowdown in the global economy, university branding initiatives that result in increased enrollment are more important than ever. According to Shampeny (2003, p. 1), “(w)ith the increasing cost of university tuition, the competition for students, and, in the case of state colleges and universities, decreasing state funding, colleges are continually looking for ways to attract students, fund their mission and stand out from the crowd.” This exploratory study examines which criteria are most important for entering freshmen in the selection of a university; how these criteria match up with students’ views of the institution they ultimately attended; how students gained information about the colleges/universities they considered; and whether there are differences between public and private university students’ views on these topics. While the literature offers a number of criteria that may impact the choice of institution for prospective college students, institutions differ considerably by size, program offerings, (non-) religious affiliation, cost, amenities, and reputation. Therefore, this study compared perceptions of freshmen at two types of institutions to determine whether significant differences existed between those who attended a private, religious-affiliated university and those who attended a public, urban university on these questions of interest.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the most important criteria used to select institutions to which students sent application materials differed based on the type of institution ultimately attended. Among public university students, the top five consideration criteria were quality education, accredited university, friendly environment, availability of financial aid, and facilities. For private university students, the top five criteria were availability of financial aid, quality education, the availability of scholarships, accredited university, and reputation of the university.

This study also reveals that today’s public and private university students consider a wide variety of criteria when considering to which colleges/universities to apply; and that their evaluation of the institution they ultimately attended may not match up directly with the importance they stated that they gave to certain selection criteria. Whether students’ actions differed from stated attitudinal criteria due to a discrepancy between those institutions considered and those to which they were accepted is unknown.

While some of the university selection criteria examined appear to remain consistently important over decades of research, amenities/facilities emerged as an important selection factor in this study and would seem to reflect a 21st century view of the university experience. Though some within the academic community have raised sharp criticism of the lengths to which colleges and universities are going in an effort to distinguish themselves from competitors by building elaborate recreation centers, student centers, and student housing (Twitchell 2004), our findings suggest that these amenities may be very important to the modern student when choosing among higher education alternatives. Lastly, given the branding implications of these findings, recommendations are made for marketing managers and higher education administrators regarding marketing messages that may have the greatest impact on prospective freshmen.

Shampeny, Renelle (October 24, 2003), “Colleges Turn Attention to Branding in Competition for New Students,” The Business Review (Albany), Retrieved 5 June 2008 from [http://bizjournals.com/albany/stories/2003/10/27/ focus5.html?t=printable].

Twitchell, James B. (2004), “Higher Ed, Inc.,” Wilson Quarterly, 28 (3), 46-59.

For further information contact: Mathew Joseph Bill Greehey School of Business St. Mary’s University One Camino Santa Maria San Antonio, TX 78228 Phone: (251) 460-1456 E-Mail: josephmj1@yahoo.com