Informed consumerAs college tuition continues to rise, and entry into the job market still poses difficulties for recent college grads, many prospective college students are asking themselves, “What kind of return on my investment will I receive by attending this school?”
No longer is choosing a place to pursue a higher education degree only about the type of education a student will receive. Today, students are more than just students; they are savvy consumers. As a result, many higher education institutions are looking for new ways to show these savvy students how attending their school will yield them the biggest return on investment (ROI).

Trends & Factors Impacting Choice

With new trends affecting higher education, such as an increase in the diversity of students who enroll in college, as well as a continued increase in the number of non-traditional students, the way schools must speak to their students is changing. In addition, the recent economic crisis is still impacting those weighing their education options. Most families in the U.S. were affected in some way by the economy, whether it is a decrease in income, a loss of income, a reduction in their home value, or a decrease in savings because of higher than normal debt.

Today, college or higher education students have a lot more to consider than in previous years. They must weigh the cost of education against their expectations for their future. In a study conducted by Charles F. Manski and David A. Wise, it was determined that there are five key factors which play the biggest role in the higher education deciding process. These included:

  • Family income
  • Cost of school and aid available
  • Academic aptitude
  • Quality of the high school they attended
  • Labor market conditions

Family expectation and peer influence were also found to play a role in deciding which school to choose. In addition to these factors, students also have more choices when it comes to choosing the right school. These choices range from online to offline, private to public and even in state or out-of-state.

With so many options to choose, and set factors influencing the decision, finding the perfect higher education match can be overwhelming.  For the most part, these factors are out the control for most institutions, which poses a challenge. How does an institution truly respond to a student’s concerns?

Determining ROI – Seeing Students as Consumers

The best way to overcome the obstacles of set decision making factors and overwhelming options is to deliver the highest quality of information possible to prospective students. Bragging about an amazing array of degree options or well-regarded faculty no longer gets the recruiting job done. Instead, schools must also include useful tools that allow students to see the real world benefit they will receive upon graduation.

Successful recruiting tools include:

  • Sharing graduation and job placement data. This can come from counselors, admission officers or in printed or web-based materials.
  • Online financial counseling
  • Net price calculators
  • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s cost comparison worksheet
  • Financial aid shopping sheet

While these tools will definitely help to address student’s concerns, institutions must not stop here. It is also important to determine a student’s ROI. Todd Bloom of Hobsons recommends asking the following questions to help assess student ROI:

  1. What is the student body like? i.e. graduation rate, retention rate, levels of engagement
  2. What is the learning environment like? i.e. how is the student supported, what tools are available to help with picking courses and to track performance
  3. What are the costs, and what financial aid is available? i.e. tuition costs and fees, percent of student with loans and average rate of loan amount
  4. What are the alumni like? i.e. level of alumni satisfaction, how much do they earn after graduating


Author Rick J. Stern

Entrepreneur Rick Stern built Xenegrade Corp with a focus on service to educational organizations. With an MBA from Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester and over 20 years continuing education management, his experience provides valuable insight into the needs, demands, and trends of the continuing education market.

More posts by Rick J. Stern

Leave a Reply