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Is digital advertising to increase college enrollment as straightforward as you may think?

Colleges and universities employ a variety of digital advertising methods to attract prospective students to their campuses. You might ask, What is digital marketing? For a brief rundown, you can watch a video that summarizes the subject well, or review this simple infographic. But is digital marketing to Generation Z effective?

Photo courtesy of Julia M. Cameron,

It turns out that this question is somewhat hard to answer. In the scope of history, most colleges and universities began the transition to digital approximately 25 years ago, when many began scanning records and placing enrollment and other forms online (Blake et al., 2007). Fast forward to today, and those in higher education are investing in search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, list buys, social media posts by student bloggers, and a variety of other digital techniques to attract prospective students (Hop Online, 2017, and Roberts, 2017).

Interestingly, however, digital advertising is not a bullet-proof plan for attracting students. Problems remain: The effects of digital marketing ― as with traditional marketing methods ― are hard to measure, frictions exist in the advertising channel, and ad blocking and ad fraud often take place (Gordon et al, 2019).

Finally, traditional advertising methods continue to be effective, and easily identifiable “ads” are often tuned out by Generation Z, whereas content marketing and personal interaction appear to be effective in reaching young people (Hop Online, 2017, and Scripted, u.d.). Ultimately, colleges and universities must employ a variety of advertising techniques and not rely on one method in order to increase enrollment.

Keep following my blog for more information pertaining to communications professionals. I focus on topics pertaining to higher education, storytelling, and how marketing and strategic communication blend in this era of digital convergence.

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Blake, S., Head, J. F., & Hughes, T. M. (2007). Using Electronic Data Management to Create A Recruitment Advantage: The “Digital Back Office” Provides a New Measure of Stealth Competition. College & University, 82(4), 33–36.

Erhart, A. (2016, November 9). What Is Digital Marketing? And How Does It Work? YouTube.

Gordon, B. R., Jerath, K., Katona, Z., Narayanan, S., Shin, J., & Wilbur, K. C. (2019).Inefficiencies in Digital Advertising Markets.

Hop Online. (2017, May 15). Higher education marketing: How to master your admissions funnel.

Roberts, M. (2017, July 11). 4 ways digital marketing increases enrollment for universities. Speak Creative LLC.

Scripted. (u.d.). What the data says about marketing to college students.

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