It’s been approximately four years since Grawe’s bombshell “Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education.” And, just as many of us were coming to terms with the future Grawe portrayed, COVID-19 and a sharp drop in consumer confidence have wrought even more challenges.
Fall 2022 numbers showed some growth in specific areas, yet undergraduate enrollment—the bellwether of indicators—fell for the fifth semester in a row. All this while a large percentage of the population remains critical and, even less trusting, of higher education. By all accounts, our market is losing not just relevance but also size.
To survive, a common approach for market leaders—or any brand with a similar growth mindset—is to focus on market share ahead of market health, but this approach may only benefit categories in which there are only one or two dominant players. In a different frame and as Guy Murphy wrote, “Everyone worries about having more pie than anyone else, and no one is worrying about how much pie there is in the first place.”
In categories with a larger portfolio of players and where the spread of market share is more dynamic, market health plays a stronger role in growth. Knowing the number of institutions and that most students don’t shop via a predetermined set (small liberal arts vs. R1 public), we see that higher education follows a much similar pattern to the latter scenario.
For higher education leaders and marketers, this begs the following questions. What is marketing’s role in all of this? How should marketing navigate the dynamics of our current market? More specifically—and the crux of this article—is it possible for marketing and advertising to help grow the market? If so, how?
What follows is an attempt to shine some light on what advertising can collectively accomplish in a volatile industry.