There are two camps of upperclass high school students: (1) seniors, who have made their enrollment decisions and (2) juniors who are “in the barrel,” ready to make the plunge into the full-blown college admissions process. For seniors, the hunt is over. They are eagerly anticipating the dramatic new adventure that awaits them at the end of the summer. Juniors, on the other hand, have miles to go before they can rest concerning their higher education futures.
We have discussed at length the preference points that comprise the college search. Distance from home, curriculum offerings, size, political leanings, and (among others) — yes — The Big One: cost. Of course, there are other more subtle preference points that go into making college choices, but I’d like to focus on cost, which can be deceiving.
Marketing is a powerful tool in selling a college. Higher education, like most other consumer products (yes, Virginia, a college education is a “product”) is couched in a variety of ways in order to appeal to prospective students. When it comes to marketing and advertising (oh, by the way, do you watch Mad Men?), I always recall a story I heard long ago about a company that sold a line of women’s fragrances (that’s the fancy term for “perfumes”). They had put a lot of research and development into producing this one particular perfume, but it wasn’t selling very well. So, the advertising firm that represented this particular line of products held a series of meetings to explore what approach could be taken to raise the appeal of this underperforming product. After a couple weeks of futile brainstorming, one low-level employee from the copywriting department blurted out during yet another frustrating meeting, “Just raise the price!” Well, that’s what they did, and guess what? Sales took off. The women who were the target demographic for the perfume now considered its quality to be superior, even “exclusive,” since the price was now so high. That’s called perceived value.
Now, I’m not suggesting that colleges raise their prices artificially just to make them appear more exclusive (or even (I hesitate to use the word) “prestigious”), but some, maybe many, high schoolers and even their parents equate price with value.
As I mentioned, higher education is a lot like any other consumer product. In many cases, you can get what you pay for. Read the rest of this entry »