Higher education marketing professionals must be able to document the effectiveness of their marketing strategies if they want to continue receiving funding. But as any marketing professional knows, things aren’t always black and white, particularly in the higher education sector.

Just because you work hard at your branding campaigns and marketing initiatives doesn’t mean that you’ll see the ROI you had hoped for. College is one of the biggest investments of a young person’s lifetime, so it’s not something that they are willing to jump on just because you launch a creative marketing campaign. It takes time – sometimes years – of nurturing before prospects actually choose your school.

Despite some of the obvious hurdles, there are some myths that persist in regards to higher education marketing. These myths might be holding you back without you realizing it.

Let’s discuss three of the most common marketing myths about higher education and how to avoid falling for them.

Myth #1: It’s impossible to measure the impact of your marketing efforts.

It’s a common misperception that colleges and universities can’t measure the effectiveness of their marketing efforts. But there are ways that you can collect data to help you better understand the impact of your campaigns.

It’s very helpful to know which questions should be asked, as sometimes the questions presented by institutional leaders are too vague. For example, the president of your university might ask how many students enrolled because of an advertisement placed in a magazine or a billboard set up off the interstate. These questions are unanswerable, and it could come across as not knowing what you’re doing.

Help institutional leaders understand which factors are measurable and which ones aren’t. Discuss your data openly and regularly so that they can see where you are progressing and which areas need more work. For instance, your college or university might have a high alumni participation rate or a low retention rate. By discussing metrics openly and freely, everyone stays on the same page.

Myth #2: You can achieve success without tying metrics back to performance improvements.  

Another misunderstanding that higher education marketing professionals have is that they can achieve success without applying the metrics back to performance.

It’s understandable why this happens. The day-to-day demands of running a school consumes most of the time in your day, and it’s easy not to get the message over to your internal team.

The problem with this is that your internal team can’t grow and make changes if they don’t know what the status of your metrics are. This team needs to be familiar with the metrics just as much as your leadership team does.

To streamline the communication process, your college or university needs to develop a system where this information is delivered to the team on a regular and consistent basis. Your internal staff can then use the data to set goals and make specific improvements.

Myth #3: You can determine your ROI without knowing the investment.

A final misunderstanding that may be holding you back is that you don’t need to know your initial investment to calculate your ROI. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. You do need to know what the initial investment was because this is the only way to know what your return is.

Again, it’s understandable why this myth persists in the higher education sector. The business school may spend a million dollars on marketing efforts, while the development office may have put out a few million as well. In other words, various departments and branches of the college may be putting out funds that leadership is not aware of.

The best way to handle this is to delegate the responsibility to track and measure all marketing expenditures to one department, preferably the central marketing officer. This individual will be responsible for collecting all spending, documenting it appropriately and explaining ROI on all marketing initiatives. They should also be able to help leadership make more strategic decisions based on the data collected.


As you may have already encountered, you cannot continue going back to the president of your college or university and ask for funding without being able to show that your investments are working. You need to be able to document your progress and explain why money is needed in different areas. By developing more strategic systems for tracking and reporting metrics, you can keep everyone in the loop and make real change that is good for everyone.