Social Media – A Route to Recruit Minorities to College?

social media and higher education

Social Media has become far more than just a place to keep track of your friends and family members’ activities, or perhaps check on what your ex is up to. Social Media sites are increasingly being used to help make informed decisions on critically important life choices.

Under-represented student groups have been shown to be more likely than their counterparts to rely on social media channels, such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, to learn about colleges, according to a survey of college-bound students released today by Royall & Company, a division of EAB. These student groups are also more likely to interact with colleges and universities on social media throughout their college search.

“Social media continues to play an important role in college-bound students’ lives and the college search process is no exception, especially with first-generation, low-income, and minority students,” said Pamela Kiecker Royall, Ph.D., head of research at Royall & Company.

The survey of 5,580 college-bound students found that under-represented students were more likely to initially learn about schools on social media than their counterparts were. Specifically:

  • 27 percent of first-generation students compared to 17 percent of non-first-generation students said they discovered a college or university on social media
  • 25 percent of Hispanic/Latino students and 24 percent of African American students compared to 16 percent of Caucasian students said they discovered a college or university on social media
  • 24 percent of students from households with incomes of $60K or less compared to 13 percent of students from households with incomes of $120K or more said they discovered a college or university on social media.

The survey also asked students whether they have liked, shared, or watched content posted by colleges and universities. This type of engagement suggests a student is paying greater attention to what colleges post and finding the content more interesting, compared to students who do not engage.

First-generation students are seven percent more likely to like a post and five percent more likely to share content from a college or university on Facebook. Similarly, first-generation students are more likely to like a post from a college or share content posted by a college or university on Snapchat.

When asked about other sources of information used during their college search, under-represented students responded that they were less likely to rely on opportunities that were more personal in nature, compared to their peers.

  • 61 percent of Hispanic/Latino respondents and 67 percent of African American respondents rely on parents and other family members versus 81 percent of Caucasian respondents
  • 50 percent of first-generation students rely on friends already in college versus 60 percent of non-first-generation students
  • 63 percent of students from low-income households go on campus visits compared to 83 percent of high-income students

“These findings suggest that under-represented, college-bound students are less likely to consider their friends and family as a resource and do not have the opportunity to visit schools during their college search as often as their peers,” Dr. Kiecker Royall continued. “They seem to be turning to social media to fill this information gap, which means there is an opportunity for colleges and universities to modify their social media efforts to provide students the information they need, where they are looking for it.”

While there is promise in using social media to engage prospective minority students, email and mail still outpace social media as students’ go-to channels: 78 percent of prospective students say they research college options by reading mail or email from colleges, while 33 percent of students research college options by following a school on social media.

“Schools should not underestimate students’ continued reliance on mail and email. Instead, colleges and universities should consider including social media outreach or bolstering existing social media efforts as part of a multi-channel approach to successfully recruit a diverse class,” Dr. Kiecker Royall continued.

For further insights into prospective students’ communications preferences, the full report, “Student Communications in the Evolving Digital Era,” can be found here.



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Eric T. Tung

Eric T. Tung

Eric T. Tung is the director of digital communications for GoTo Marketers, a top-rated social media strategist and consultant, and dad. He has worked with some of the leading companies in the world on digital communications and employment branding, and makes a mean smoked brisket. Eric is based in Houston, Texas, and you can find him on most channels as EricTTung.