Why You Should Sell to the Higher Education Market

Colleges and Universities, also known as ‘Higher Education’, (I’ll just call them Colleges, here) form a large and stable group of institutional customers that buy, like, LOTS of products and services. It’s a sector many types of companies should consider targeting.

COVID-19 has had a large impact on colleges; it has reduced enrollment for many colleges, and forced them to adopt new practices such as delivering courses online.  

So, the difference between Colleges and Universities? Glad you asked; colleges are smaller, offering four-year undergraduate degrees and two-year associate degrees.  Universities are larger and offer a wider variety of classes and degrees, including masters degrees and PhDs.

Colleges buy everything from software and services to furnishings, foodservice and countless other offerings. They provide an evergreen, essential function and enjoy a steady stream of customers – students.

The Market Size of U.S. Colleges

Every year about 20M students are enrolled in one of the 4,000 colleges in the U.S.

Half are small, although still worth approaching, with less than 2,000 students.  But the other half – 2,000 colleges – are much larger, going up to 50,000 students for Arizona State, or The Ohio State University, for example.  Total gross revenue for all U.S. colleges is over $500B, annually.  And roughly 15% of this goes to support, or auxiliary services – roughly $75B a year. 

Although the growth rate of college enrollment has slowed, due to demographics and rising costs, the sector is likely remaining at its current level for the for-seeable future.

College students

What are College Auxiliary Services?

All colleges have a faculty; that is, the academic departments that decide curriculum and deliver the educational product.   If you have an education-related product or service they’re your customers. 

But colleges also have extensive management and support functions, known as auxiliary services, that support the delivery of an education. These services include housing, dining, retail – including bookstores, facilities-management, events, parking and transportation.  Increasingly, the funds made by auxiliary services are important to the running of a college.  Like dining, retail and housing. Read our blog about College Foodservice here and our blog about College Retail here.

The quality of these services is important to the success of a college.  From a marketing viewpoint, they help a college stand out from other colleges. Facilities, dorms, foodservice and events are often as important to how students decide which college to attend (and remain at), as the college’s academic quality and reputation.  You could call it user experience (UX).

So, if you’re selling a product or service that can help a college improve this UX you need to find a way to reach out to these auxiliary services folks (give us a shout – we’re experts).

Public and Private Colleges

Colleges are either public or private. Public colleges are essentially part of state governments, and get funding from their state.  This makes them more affordable to state residents.  Private colleges are funded by tuition and endowments, or gifts from private individuals, usually wealthy graduates. Many private colleges are also affiliated with a religious denomination. 

But both public and private colleges have the auxiliary departments mentioned above. And both are equally interested in optimizing their UX.

College students studying

How to Sell to the College Market

There are many ways to market products and services to colleges.  There are national and state organizations that offer membership to auxiliary services professionals.  These non-profits provide education, publications and other resources.  They also offer memberships to industry suppliers and  hold national and regional conferences and tradeshows. 

The larger state college systems, like New York, Pennsylvania, California and others, also have organizations that serve the professionals that run their colleges. They also hold conferences and tradeshows which industry members can attend.  And then specific functions within auxiliary services, like foodservices and retail, also have their own separate national and regional organizations, publications and events.

For more help on approaching the college market, read our  e-Book  or contact us.