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«Fall 10-30-2014 Social Media & College Admissions: An Analysis of Facebook's Role in College Admissions & Higher Education Marketing Michael Dooney ...»

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Seton Hall University

eRepository @ Seton Hall

Seton Hall University Dissertations and Theses

Seton Hall University Dissertations and Theses

(ETDs)

Fall 10-30-2014

Social Media & College Admissions: An Analysis

of Facebook's Role in College Admissions &

Higher Education Marketing

Michael Dooney

michael.dooney@shu.edu

Follow this and additional works at: http://scholarship.shu.edu/dissertations

Part of the Higher Education Commons

Recommended Citation

Dooney, Michael, "Social Media & College Admissions: An Analysis of Facebook's Role in College Admissions & Higher Education Marketing" (2014). Seton Hall University Dissertations and Theses (ETDs). Paper 2015.

SOCIAL MEDIA & COLLEGE ADMISSIONS:

AN ANALYSIS OF FACEBOOK’S ROLE IN COLLEGE ADMISSIONS & HIGHER

EDUCATION MARKETING

By Michael Dooney, Ph.D.

Dissertation Committee:

Eunyoung Kim, Ph.D., Mentor Kathleen Rennie, Ph.D., Committee Member Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj, Ph.D. Committee Member Dissertation Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at Seton Hall University South Orange, New Jersey © 2014 Michael Dooney Abstract College admissions offices have developed and evolved to include increasingly sophisticated mechanisms for recruiting classes sufficient for meeting the financial needs of their respective institutions, and social media has rapidly become a popular tool for admissions offices in their efforts to meet enrollment goals. However, while social media is now used by practically every admissions office in the United States, little research exists that examines how universities use social media in this context. This qualitative study examines the use of a private Facebook group at a private university and incorporates observational study of the Facebook group and interviews with administrators. The researcher’s research questions are: 1) how does a university use Facebook to communicate with prospective students?, 2) why does a university decide to use Facebook in its admissions and recruitment processes?, and 3) how do universities determine if their social media strategy is successful for the recruitment of prospective students? The researcher found that the university used the group primarily as a way of allowing students to interact with each other with minimal administrative interference and this approach effectively allowed the students to recruit each other for the university. The university considers this initiative to be a success and evaluates it with a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methods, but also admits that it is difficult to establish causation between any single factor and enrollment outcomes. The researcher concluded that the university’s passive, student-driven approach is effective with prospective students but that developments in social media must be closely monitored in order to maintain engagement with prospective students on appropriate platforms.

–  –  –

When reflecting upon the long road toward a difficult accomplishment, it’s a time-honored tradition to thank those who helped you along the way. As cliché as such statements of gratitude may be, they are also true and I’m grateful that it’s finally my time to compose one.

I doubt that any doctoral student has ever failed to mention their committee in one of these sections, and I will not be the first exception. However, I want to emphasize that the inclusion of my committee here is not a matter of formality or implied obligation. The greatest thing that a doctoral student can have is a supportive and responsive committee, and I can’t imagine having a better one. I would first like to acknowledge my mentor, Dr. Eunyoung Kim. I don’t think the word “mentor” truly encapsulates everything that she has done for me. She has been my biggest fan, my harshest critic, my collaborator and, when things didn’t go well, my therapist. Dr.

Kathleen Rennie has been with me since I was an undergraduate here at Seton Hall. Before I met her, I never imagined attending graduate school, let alone getting a doctorate. I thank her for being there at both the beginning and the end of my career as a college student and I know that not a word of this document would have been written if she had not taken an interest in me all those years ago. This dissertation would have also been very different if I had never met Dr.

Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj. I had the general idea for a dissertation for years, but had no idea what methodological approach to take with it. That changed when I took Dr. Sattin-Bajaj’s qualitative research class and the gears started turning in my head (slowly at first, but they sped up with her guidance). Much like my other committee members, she spent more time with me than she had any obligation to and helped me develop the ideas that eventually saw fruition in this dissertation.

I am grateful and honored to say that I was a student under each of them.

–  –  –

especially want to thank Dr. Alexandra Sigillo, Uversity’s data analyst, without whom this project would have been logistically impossible.

I have gone to great lengths to conceal the true identity of Quint University in the rest of these pages. This is the one time that I wish I could identify them because I can’t thank them enough. They not only volunteered for this study, but were also incredibly cooperative throughout the whole process. I can’t name you, but you know who you are and I thank you.





Of course, I must acknowledge my family. My mother, Eileen Dooney, has probably been more enthusiastic about my education than I have ever been. I have been a student non-stop since I was four years old, and she has been there for me every step of the way, no matter how hard I made it for her. It was 26 years ago that she dropped me off for my first day of kindergarten and, as I complete this document, I hope that she is proud that I finally finished school. My father, Edward Dooney, stressed the value of education and hard work to me since I was a small child and always pushed me to go further. When I got my bachelor’s degree, he asked me what I wanted as a graduation present and I replied with a new car. He said that the only way I was getting that was if the graduation put the word “doctor” in front of my name. So, in a sense, this manuscript is a monument to the lengths that I will go in the name of spite. Thanks, dad, now I want the car. As for my brother, Jason Dooney, I can’t relate any stories that would be appropriate for these pages. But I will say that I struggled with whether to count him among my family or my friends. That probably says more than anything else would.

Lastly, I want to thank my friends (Rob, Tom, Geve, Kraeuter and their respective significant others), without whom this document would have undoubtedly been finished much sooner. But I also would have had a lot less fun in the process. Thanks for keeping me sane and

–  –  –

keeping me company, even if they had no choice in the matter. Sometimes when things aren’t going well, it really is best just to go where everybody knows your name.

–  –  –

Chapter I: Introduction

Problem Statement

Theoretical Framework

Purpose of the Study……………………………………………………………...6 Research Questions……………………………………………………………….6 Significance of the Study…………………………………………………………7 Key Terms………………………………………………………………………...8 Organization of the Dissertation………………………………………………….9 Chapter II: Review of Literature

The Evolution of American College Admissions

The Definition and Evolution of Social Media

Social Media and College Admissions………………………………………….29 Chapter III: Methodology

Virtual Ethnography: Definition and Rationale…………………………………37 Review of Past Research

The Ethics of Virtual Ethnography

Virtual Ethnography and Higher Education…………………………………….54 Methods…………………………………………………………………………56 Ethical Safeguards………………………………………………………………65 Role of Researcher and Reflexivity……………………………………………..66 Trustworthiness and Quality Assurance………………………………………...67 Limitations………………………………………………………………………69 Chapter IV: Findings

Research Question 1: How does a university use Facebook to communicate with prospective students?

Research Question 1a: How does a university decide what content to post on Facebook?

Research Question 1b: Who manages the Facebook group for the university?

Research Question 2: Why does a university decide to use Facebook in its admissions and recruitment processes?

Research Question 2a: Is the university’s motivation for using Facebook aligned with its actual use of Facebook? …………………116 Research Question 2b: If there are discrepancies between the actual activity and the motivation, how do university administrators explain them?

Research Question 3: How do universities determine if their social media strategy is successful for the recruitment of prospective students?

–  –  –

Chapter V: Conclusion

Implications for Practice

Recommendations for Practice………………………………………………...133 Implications for Theory

Implications for Methodology

Recommendations for Future Research………………………………………..139 Concluding Remarks…………………………………………………………...141 References

Appendix A: Sample Section of Coded Facebook Transcript

Appendix B: Interview Protocol

Appendix C: Letter of Solicitation for Interviews

Author’s Biography…………………………………………………………………….157

–  –  –

Student recruitment is an expensive process for college admissions offices. On average, the recruitment of each college applicant costs $585, the recruitment of each admitted student costs $806 and the recruitment of each enrolled student costs $2,408 (Chace, 2013). Over the years, the student recruitment process has involved various tools and strategies, including college fairs, direct mailings and various forms of print advertising. In recent years, social media has played an increasingly important role in shaping the landscape of college admissions and recruitment.

Recent studies have shown that social media is now commonly used among prospective college students during the college-choice process. In a survey of 11,000 high school seniors entering college in 2013, 72.8% researched colleges using social media and 75% used social media as a resource when deciding which college to enroll in. Among those surveyed, Facebook was the most popular platform with a reported usage rate of nearly 90% (Uversity, 2013a).

This trend has not gone unnoticed by college admissions professionals. The University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research conducted a longitudinal study by interviewing 456 admissions administrators from schools across the United States. The results showed the rapid and widespread adoption of social media among admissions offices: 61% of admissions offices reported using social media in their recruitment efforts in 2007 (Barnes & Lescault, 2011). In subsequent years, the number rose to 85% in 2008 (Barnes & Mattson, 2009) and 100% in 2011 (Barnes & Lescault, 2011).

Considering the expensive nature of student recruitment and the current popularity of social media in this arena, the use of social media in college admissions and student recruitment is a timely and important issue for admissions administrators. If social media is now the most popular search mechanism for prospective students in the college-choice process, then the viability of social media as an admissions tool is a concern that has financial repercussions for higher education institutions. Since each enrolled student costs $2,408 in marketing expenses (Chace, 2013) and social media is now used as a marketing tool by all American universities (Barnes & Lescault, 2011), the misuse of social media for this purpose would be a significant misallocation of institutional funding and effort. However, despite the abundance of available data regarding the popularity of social media in this context, there is little research on social media’s role and value as an interactive bridge between admissions offices and prospective students (for a noteworthy exception, see the doctoral dissertation of Ferguson, 2010).

This void in the research is likely caused by a couple of factors. First, the results of using social media are difficult to measure and assess because many of the users are anonymous. A university’s YouTube video could be the deciding factor for a prospective student’s decision to attend that particular institution. But unless that student explicitly tells the university that the video influenced his/her decision, the school would have no way of knowing. Consequently, such recruitment initiatives are difficult to study.



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