Colleges Use Social Media and Online Courses to Reach Prospective Students

November 16, 2012  |  

Colleges and universities are usually ahead of the curve when it comes to technology and adopting new digital trends. Now, as younger consumers spend more time online, colleges are starting to woo them via social media, smartphone apps, and online classes.

Time magazine analyzed this trend in a very interesting article on its website today. According to a study from study by the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, 90 percent of colleges were pleased with their investment in social media.

“What we’re trying to do with social media is be relatable and relevant,” Perry Hewitt, Harvard University’s chief digital officer, told the magazine. “In today’s communications environment, it’s not a ticket to win. It’s a ticket to play.”

But using social media to connect with students and prospective students isn’t always easy. First, some students do not want to be bothered by their colleges and universities on Facebook and other social sites. Additionally, the schools must be willing to be a bit more transparent and open and go beyond traditional brochures and marketing messages. And last but not least, there are risks in getting involved on social media, saying the wrong thing, and starting a bad Internet meme among college kids.

But connecting via digital channels has also moved beyond current students. An organization called Semester Online is partnering with well-known universities, including Vanderbilt, Northwestern, and Brandeis, to offer online courses for credit. Students enrolled in any undergraduate program can pay to take classes at top-tier universities and receive credit at their current institution.

This program is different from massive open online courses, provided through companies such as Coursera. Those programs provides free online classes to post-graduate learners for no credit, but with Semester Online, students must pay, be academically eligible to participate, and receive credit—more like a study abroad program, via the internet.

An infographic on shows that there are 5.6 million online students and that 24.8% of “distance learners” identify as black and 20.8 percent were Hispanic. This is compared to 14 percent of “traditional” students who are black and 6 percent who are Hispanic. If minorities continue to turn more often to online courses and programs, the expansion of programs such as Semester Online and Coursera may be a boost to education and growth within the communities.

Would you take an online course? Do you think students will continue to connect with colleges on social networks in the future?

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