A Sociological Analysis of Online Advertisements Promoting Online Programs in Higher Education
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A rising number of students have turned towards seeking their degrees online in lieu of enrolling in the traditional brick and mortar college or university. Today online marketing is more visible than ever, and the prospective student population for higher education is increasingly attracted to online programs. The purpose of the present study is, therefore, to analyze the online marketing of online programs in higher education. This study is a descriptive analysis of the audiovisual messages that colleges and universities are sending about their online programs. I conducted a qualitative analysis of 98 online video advertisements developed and posted by 36 different institutions of higher education in the United States. I identified five specific themes in these advertisements: 1) For Busy Individuals Needing Time and Flexibility; 2) Achieving Dreams: Creating or Improving Career; 3) Going Back to School and ‘Finishing’ aka Graduation; 4) Reputable Institution and Faculty; and 5) Affordability. These findings are generally consistent with previous research that documented institutional branding in higher education and the packaging of education as a product. The advertisement theme of affordability is a unique finding of the present study, which extends earlier research that saw higher education focused on the marketing of its benefits. Hidden assumptions of higher education advertising themes are discussed. Also discussed are potential policy implications of the current findings.