College choice and the university brand: exploring the consumer decision framework

Abstract

Branding in higher education has become increasingly used as a mechanism of differentiation among competitors to attract prospective students. Although branding in higher education is a common phenomenon, little work has been done assessing the college selection process using a brand choice framework. This paper aims to fill the gap by investigating the college selection process using the consumer decision framework specifically addressing the notion of the consideration set. The study employs qualitative research methods and included interviews of incoming first-year students. The findings reveal that the university brands in the consideration set for a student range from one to eight and need not be of the same type of institution. Also, the findings highlight other brand-related constructs that help to move the university from consideration set to ultimately the college of choice.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

References

  1. Aaker, J. L. (1997). Dimensions of brand personality. Journal of Marketing Research, 34, 347–356.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. American Marketing Association. (2014). Online dictionary retrieved November 30, 2014 https://www.ama.org/resources/Pages/Dictionary.aspx?dLetter=B&dLetter=B.

  3. Anctil, E. J. (2008). Recommendations for selling higher education. ASHE Higher Education Report, 34(2), 89–98.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Balmer, J. M. T., & Gray, E. R. (2003). Corporate brands: What are they? What of them? European Journal of Marketing, 37(7/8), 972–997.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bastedo, M. N., Samuels, E., & Kleinman, M. (2014). Do charismatic presidents influence college applications and alumni donations? Organizational identity and performance in US higher education. Higher Education, 68, 397–415.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Bennett, R., & Ali-Choudhury, R. (2009). Prospective students’ perceptions of university brands: An empirical study. Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, 19, 85–107.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Brisoux, J. E., & Laroche, M. (1980). A proposed consumer strategy of simplification for categorizing brands. In J. D. Summey & R. D. Taylor (Eds.), Evolving marketing thought for 1980 (pp. 112–114). New Orleans, LA: Southern Marketing Association.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Brown, R. M., & Mazzarol, T. W. (2009). The importance of institutional image to student satisfaction and loyalty within higher education. Higher Education, 58, 81–95.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Bucklin, R. E., & Gupta, S. (1992). Brand choice, purchase incidence, and segmentation: An integrated modeling approach. Journal of Marketing Research, 29(2), 201–215.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Chapleo, C. (2010). What defines “successful” university brands? International Journal of Public Sector Management, 23(2), 169–183.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Chapleo, C. (2011). Exploring rationales for branding a university: Should we be seeking to measure branding in UK universities? Journal of Brand Management, 18, 411–422.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Curtis, T., Abratt, R., & Minor, W. (2009). Corporate brand management in higher education: The case of ERAU. Journal of Product & Brand Management, 18(6), 404–413.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Dawes, P. L., & Brown, J. (2002). Determinants of awareness, consideration, and choice set size in university choice. Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, 12(1), 49–75.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Dawes, P. L., & Brown, J. (2004). The composition of consideration and choice sets in undergraduate university choice: An exploratory study. Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, 14(2), 37–59.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. de Chernatony, L., & Dall’Olmo Riley, F. (1997). The chasm between managers’ and consumers’ views of brands: The experts’ perspectives. Journal of Strategic Marketing, 5, 89–104.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Erdem, T., & Keane, M. P. (1996). Decision-making under uncertainty: Capturing dynamic brand choice processes in turbulent consumer goods markets. Marketing Science, 15(1), 1–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Howard, J. A., & Sheth, J. N. (1969). The theory of buyer behavior. New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Jacoby, J., Speller, D. E., & Kohn, C. A. (1974). Brand choice behavior as a function of information load. Journal of Marketing Research, 11, 63–69.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Joseph, M., Wall Mullen, E., & Spake, D. (2012). University branding: Understanding students’ choice of an educational institution. Journal of Brand Management, 20, 1–12.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Judson, K. M., Aurand, T. W., Gorchels, L., & Gordon, G. L. (2009). Building a university brand from within: University administrators’ perspectives of internal branding. Services Marketing Quarterly, 30(1), 54–68.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Judson, K. M., Gorchels, L., & Aurand, T. W. (2006). Building a university brand from within: A comparison of coaches’ perspectives of internal branding. Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, 16(1), 97–114.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Kotler, P. (1994). Marketing management (8th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Laidler-Kylander, N., Quelch, J. A., & Simonin, B. L. (2007). Building and valuing global brands in the nonprofit sector. Nonprofit Management and Leadership, 17(3), 253–277.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Laroche, M., Rosenblatt, J., & Sinclair, I. (1984). Brand categorization strategies in an extensive problem solving situation: A study of university choice. Advances in Consumer Research, 11(1), 175–179.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Mael, F., & Ashforth, B. E. (1992). Alumni and their alma mater: A partial test of the reformulated model of organizational identification. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 13(2), 103–123.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. McAlexander, J. H., Koenig, H. F., & Schouten, J. W. (2004). Building a university brand community: the long-term impact of shared experiences. Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, 14(2), 61–79.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Melewar, T. C., & Akel, S. (2005). The role of corporate identity in the higher education sector. Corporate Communications, 10(1), 41–57.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Moogan, Y. J., Baron, S., & Bainbridge, S. (2001). Timings and trade-offs in the marketing of higher education courses: A conjoint approach. Marketing Intelligence & Planning, 19(3), 179–187.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Narayana, C. L., & Markin, R. J. (1975). Consumer behavior and product performance: An alternative conceptualization. Journal of Marketing, 39(4), 1–6.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. National Center for Education Statistics. (2011). Projections of education statistics to 2020, 39th Edition. Table 14. (NCES 2011-026).

  31. National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). Digest of education statistics, 2011 (NCES 2012-001).

  32. Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research & evaluation methods. London: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Price, I., Matzdorf, F., Smith, L., & Agahi, H. (2003). The impact of facilities on student choice of university. Facilities, 21(10), 212–222.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Rosen, D. E., Curran, J. M., & Greenlee, T. B. (1998). College choice in a brand elimination framework: The administrator’s perspective. Journal of Marketing for Higher Education, 8(4), 61–81.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Shimp, T. A. (1981). Attitude toward the ad as a mediator of consumer brand choice. Journal of Advertising, 10(2), 9–48.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Shocker, A. D., Ben-Akiva, M., Boccaro, B., & Nedungadi, P. (1991). Consideration set influences on consumer decision-making and choice: Issues, models, and suggestions. Marketing Letters, 2(3), 181–197.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Sojkin, B., Barkowiak, P., & Skuza, A. (2012). Determinants of higher education choices and student satisfaction: The case of Poland. Higher Education, 63, 565–581.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Sojkin, B., Barkowiak, P., & Skuza, A. (2014). Changes in students’ choice determinants in Poland: A comparative study of tertiary business education between 2008 and 2013, Higher Education, published online July 11, 2014, doi:10.1007/s10734-014-9770-9.

  39. Tavares, O., & Cardoso, S. (2013). Enrolment choices in Portuguese higher education: Do students behave as rational consumers? Higher Education, 66, 297–309.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Turley, L. W., & LeBlanc, R. P. (1993). An exploratory investigation of consumer decision making in the service sector. The Journal of Services Marketing, 7(4), 11–18.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Turley, L.W., & LeBlanc, R.P. (1995). Evoked sets: A dynamic process model. Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, 3(2), 28–36.

  42. Waeraas, A., & Solbakk, M. N. (2008). Defining the essence of a university: Lessons from higher education branding. Higher Education, 57, 449–462.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Wintre, M. G., Dilouya, B., Pancer, S. M., Pratt, M. W., Birnie-Lefcovitch, S., Polivy, J., & Adams, G. (2011). Academic achievement in first-year university: Who maintains their high school average? Higher Education, 62, 467–481.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Zeithaml, V. A. (1981). How consumer evaluation processes differ between goods and services. In J. H. Donnelly & W. R. George (Eds.), Marketing of services (pp. 186–190). Chicago, IL: American Marketing Association.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Amber L. Stephenson.

Appendix: Semi-structured interview guide

Appendix: Semi-structured interview guide

  1. 1.

    What drew you to this institution?

    1. a.

      Was it your first choice school?

      • If no, what was your first choice school?

    2. b.

      Other schools you considered?

  2. 2.

    How would you describe the school?

    1. a.

      What schools do you compare it to?

    2. b.

      How does the school measure up against those competitors?

  3. 3.

    Can you tell me about the things you’re most looking forward to at this institution?

    1. a.

      Do you think it will be a good fit for you?

  4. 4.

    And what about those things you may be apprehensive about?

  5. 5.

    What are some of your goals for this year?

    1. a.

      Academic goals?

    2. b.

      Personal goals?

  6. 6.

    What are your expectations of the school?

    1. a.

      What are some of the things you feel entitled to as a member of the community?

  7. 7.

    Is there anything that I neglected to ask you that you feel I should know?

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Stephenson, A.L., Heckert, A. & Yerger, D.B. College choice and the university brand: exploring the consumer decision framework. High Educ 71, 489–503 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-015-9919-1

Download citation

Keywords

  • College choice
  • Consumer decision framework
  • Consideration sets
  • College selection