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January 03, 05

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Madeline Barillo, director of marketing and public relations for Norwalk Community College, says the Internet allows the college to communicate with students one-on-one based on their interests.

Marketing on the Internet, a do or die for colleges

The days of high school seniors waiting for bulky packages filled with information on the college they wish to attend are over, thanks to the Internet.

Catalogs, forms and marketing material outlining why they should choose a particular college have been replaced with the simplicity of the click of a mouse. College-bound students can now surf on their dream colleges' Web sites, chat with faculty and register for classes.

Because of a generation that has grown up not knowing life without a computer, colleges have raced to make as much information as possible about their offerings available on the Internet.

Some colleges offer online consultation to help students choose programs and seek financial aid. The number of colleges offering online classes has also increased, enabling many to earn a degree from home.

"I think what's happening is that mass marketing is being replaced by mass customization. So the Internet allows us to communicate one-on-one with students based on their interest," said Barbara Maryak, dean of admissions at the University of Bridgeport.

On the university's Web site, potential students answer several questions about financial aid, majors and classes. "We have software which determines which message goes to which student. So we are able to customize our responses for that individual student," said Maryak.

She said incoming freshmen can send messages instantly to other students before classes even begin.

"Blogging," where information on various topics affecting the college community is posted on the Internet with links to different sources, is also coming soon to the 3,300 students who attend the University of Bridgeport.

David Garvey, director of marketing for the University of Connecticut, said the greatest increase has been in online courses.

"People want to learn from established colleges and universities they know have a reputation as the brick and mortars of education. It's growing in leaps and bounds," Garvey said, referring to the 50,000 students nationwide each year who opt to get their degrees through the university's online courses.

Face-to-face learning is not, however, diminishing, said Garvey. Typically, students enrolled in online courses are adult learners seeking to manage their time while pursing careers.

"With the Internet, gone are the days when students had to go to each professor with a card for them to sign before registration for classes could be completed," said Madeline Barillo, director of marketing and public relations at Norwalk Community College.

Apart from revamping its Web site, the college has advertised on MTV to attract students.

This approach to online marketing is in line with research findings from Pew Internet & American Life Project in Washington, D.C., which tracks Internet usage.

Some 20 percent of today's college students began using computers between the ages of 5 and 8. By the time they were 16 to 18 years old, they had begun using computers - and the Internet was commonplace.

Of the nation's total college students, 86 percent have gone online, compared with 59 percent of the general population. The research shows Internet usage is a staple of college students' educational experience, with 79 percent saying the Internet has impacted their academic experience.