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Edufactory Musings

I have started working as a copyeditor, on a temporary basis, at my school. Besides sifting through all manner of academese — and making it more palatable — I sat through an interesting meeting in the last week. All the various facets of my office gathered together and listened to the group of people who are in charge of advertising describe what they had done in the past six months or so.

While I had always known that university students are (e)valu(ate)ed as both human and financial gems, the degree of precision that the speakers had achieved in calculating how much advertising money had been spent, on average, per completed application amazed me. The limitations to their approach are obvious, but here’s what they had done: on each ad that they took out, they put a link to a redirect page that setup a tracking cookie in the interested person’s browser. The cookie kept track of which of the people who were interested actually completed an application. Taking these data and comparing them with the cost of the ad, the advertisers established a baseline cost from which to work in the future, and could make some measured generalizations about which sorts of students were more expensive to attract, and which sorts of ads worked best at attracting them. And, of course, the numbers would serve as a basic cost-per-application to improve on during the next year’s spate of adverts.

Like I said, there are limitations to this approach. There is no way to know whether the one-off results achieved — this was the first year this sort of accounting had been done — after a given ad are indicative of a pattern; nor were the data calibrated to account for people who may have seen the ad and visited a different site, or who disable cookies, or that sort of thing. But all the same they will be used to allocate further advertising dollars, to identify which programs are difficult or impossible to advertise for, and to see which advertising has the greatest return on investment — all things that will affect decisions on an institutional level. Which is enough to curdle someone’s stomach.

Another interesting tidbit that came up in the meeting was the correlation of advertising dollars spent and enrollment: a while back money was taken out of the uni’s continuing education programs and spent on degree programs (as part of a broader effort to ‘rebrand’ the school as a whole, with special attention paid to the increased revenue that degree-program tuition brings in). The result of this was a collapse of CE enrollment numbers and an explosion in those of degree programs.

Categories: Anecdotes.

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