What are colleges spending on recruitment and marketing?

Updated: December 28, 2022

Costs of recruitment and marketing

Most colleges would like to carry a superior reputation. Part of obtaining a good reputation is by recruiting students that would best represent their schools.

The cost of recruitment and marketing can vary greatly, depending on if the college is public or private or if there’s international recruitment involved. There’s also outsourcing to recruitment agencies.

So how much are these colleges really dishing out?  

It wasn’t until recently, that U.S. colleges lifted it’s ban and began outsourcing to recruitment agencies. It’s been a rare practice thus far with about 20-30% of U.S. based colleges using third-party agencies to attract a more diverse student body, talent and students who have achieved academic/athletic excellence.

Prior to the ban being lifted, it had been illegal for colleges to use recruitment agencies to gain more international students, but colleges still are not able to pay these agencies to recruit home students.

Where outsourcing to recruitment agencies is rare in the U.S. and even frowned upon, this practice is widely used in countries such as the U.K. and Australia, as well as many other foreign countries, leaving the United States low on the totem pole in regards to using third-party agencies.

Recruitment agencies usually charge a fee or commission., sometimes even both. Who foots the bill for these fees and commissions? Institutions, students or both. While some agencies waive certain fees, others appear to double dip, receiving commission, bonuses or incentives from institutions as well as fees from students.

Out of pocket cost paid by students can range from $0 to upwards of $5000 USD. On the high end, this would be more of an appropriate estimate for an international student looking to study abroad.

Higher education institutions may pay recruitment agencies a percentage, roughly around 15% of a student’s first-year tuition.

The median cost of recruitment per student at a private college can hover around $2,450+. For public colleges, we are looking at a median of $460+ within the United States. These figures are specific to home-based students. For international students, these costs can more than double.

Marketing strategies

Marketing goes hand in hand when it comes to recruiting and enrolling new students to colleges. So how are colleges catching the attention of prospective students?

Technology. Emails, texts, apps, social media to name a few.

From a 2015 survey conducted, high school juniors and seniors, around 78%, found that they had a better perception of a college based on a college’s website.

60% of high school seniors and 55% of juniors had expressed that they were more likely to consider an institution based on their ability to digitally interact.

40% of high school seniors and 45% of juniors preferred the visuals of print and were more accepting of phone communications.

What’s it going to cost?

Today, most all institutions have developed strategies to market a strong brand; hiring marketing companies to assure this. Colleges have also utilized marketing automation tools in order to target a wider range of students for recruitment.

For colleges looking to third-party marketing agencies to boost their brand and marketing, a 2015 data report has shown that 63% of institutions paid more than $100,000 on branding and marketing initiatives with 31% of institutions spending more than  $200,000 on strategies.  The average time spent researching to launch a brand is a duration between 9-15 months.

Some institutions bypass high costs of marketing strategies by taking advantage of analytics and social media engagement.

Institutions can target by age, location, sex, interests. This method helps shave down the costs of hiring marketing agencies while attracting specific potential students for recruitment/enrollment. 

The costs for the average student life cycle vary, relying on loose estimates in determining costs that students and educational institutions both foot the bill for.

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