1 11(2004),53-72 Exploring the Consumer Behavior That Influences Student College Choice Cheng-Chuan Shen 1 Abstract This study examined consumer behavior influencing student college choice. The study focused on the choice stage, which is the last of Hossler and Gallagher s three-stage college-choice process. To understand how students select their institution, a survey was administered to the 395 freshmen who received recommended admission from a private university in northern Taiwan. The survey asked respondents to assign numerical ratings to statements regarding consumption values influencing their college choice; Descriptive analyses were conducted to determine the extent to which students used each of consumption values. Inferential analyses, including one-way ANOVAs, and independent sample t tests were then used to determine the differences to which students perceived each of the characteristics of the selected university. The findings revealed that students considered the consumption values to have a neutral effect on their college choices. However, students opinions on the impact of the functional value upon the selected university s characteristics varied between neutral and agreement. Furthermore, significant differences regarding characteristics based on students demographic characteristics were found. Students with higher GPA scores perceived the selected university has a friendly, open atmosphere to be significantly more important than did students with lower scores, and males perceived the university is located near many city activities to be significantly more important than did females. These findings provide practical information in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the selected university. Institutions, especially the selected university, can utilize the results to apply institutional marketing to accommodate the demands of its current and potential students. Keywords: Consumer behavior; College choice; Recommended admission. 1 Associate Professor, Department of International Trade, Aletheia University
2 54 11(2004) 1. Introduction Institutions of postsecondary education have faced the unprecedented challenges of increasing competition among institutions, declining enrollments, shrinking governmental funding, expanding numbers of non-traditional students, and rapidly changing needs (Zusman, 1999). Careful consideration of the consumer behavior influencing student college choice will not only address many challenges faced by postsecondary institutions but also will positively affect future institutional marketing strategies In response to the increasingly competitive environment, many colleges and universities are searching for the means to recruit more students. Higher education has adopted marketing strategies to compete for enrollment. Kotler and Fox (1995) indicated that colleges, universities, and other educational institutions increased their interest in marketing to become more effective at both attracting and assisting students and also in attaining needed resources. Changing Context in Taiwan Taiwanese higher educational system has been a supply market with many students seeking entrance into the limited number of colleges and universities. Nevertheless, a policy shift made by the Ministry of Education (MOE) allows a greater percentage of applicants to gain admission to colleges and universities. In 2002, the results of Taiwan s new version of the Joint University Entrance Examination (JUEE) showed that the admission rate for four-year colleges and universities was 80.14% (Huang, 2002). This was a substantial increase from 64.46% in 2001 and 49.24% in 1996 for the students who took the old-version JUEE. The MOE has decentralized authority, which not only has allowed new colleges and
3 Exploring the Consumer Behavior That Influences Student College Choice 55 universities to be established but also has permitted existing ones to be expanded. This is creating greater domestic competition among the colleges and universities in Taiwan. Global competition is increasing as well. Taiwan became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Under the WTO s non-discrimination clause, Taiwan needs to open its domestic markets, including the higher education market, to foreign providers. With increasingly fierce competition in education, marketing is a critical factor in helping colleges and universities recruit students. 2. Consumer Behavior and the SNG Model As a result of increasing competition among higher education institutions, college and university administrators are becoming more interested in how students make college choices. In Mazzarol, Soutar, and Thein s (2000) study, students rated future employment as the most important factor. Baksh and Hoyt (2001) claimed factors such as institutional attributes, financial aid, cost considerations, student ability, socioeconomic status and location, influence students college choices. Their study showed scholarship offers had a significant effect on students application and attendance. Later, Pratt and Evans (2002) research provided a similar finding that availability of a specific program, cost, geographic location, and academic reputation are primary factors, ranked in order of importance, affecting students college choices. Additionally, Kotler and Fox (1995) declared that students decide whether to apply and enroll, therefore consumers behaviors impact the college. Researchers have utilized a variety of means, including surveys and consumer behavior models, to learn how students eventually choose their colleges.
4 56 11(2004) In order to study the process of student college choice, Simmons (1997) used the SNG model, named for its developers, Sheth, Newman, and Gross, which applies to understanding consumer (student) choice. Functional value Conditional value Social value Market choice behavior Emotional value Epistemic value Figure 1. The five values influencing market choice behavior (Sheth, Newman, and Gross, 1991) The model s creators, Sheth et al. (1991), thought of market choice as a function of the five independent values: functional, social, emotional, epistemic, and conditional. The degree to which a product or service meets a utilitarian need for students is known as the functional value. Social value involves choosing a product or a service that projects an image that exists in the social consciousness of students. Products or services that provoke positive or negative reactions have emotional value. Epistemic value relates to a product s or a service s ability to satisfy student curiosity, give knowledge, or provide new experiences. Finally, stressing that student choice depends on the situation is conditional value.
5 Exploring the Consumer Behavior That Influences Student College Choice 57 Similarly, Hemsley-Brown (1999) studied 16-year-olds at five schools in southern England and endorsed college choice as a complex consumer behavior in both a social and cultural context. For example, most middle-class students chose colleges for academic education, but students from the working-class selected vocational colleges or employment. In addition, Art and Science Group, Inc. conducted a national survey of 400 high school seniors and found that high quality facilities, a safe campus, prestigious reputation, low cost, a diverse campus, and an attractive campus were key factors in choosing a college or university (Hesel, 1997). Originally, the SNG model was applied to consumer behavior and decision-making. Simmons (1997) adapted the SNG model for students college choice. Also, she focused on the choice stage, which is the last of Hossler and Gallagher s three-stage college-choice process. Hossler and Gallagher (1987) built the three-stage model that includes the predisposition, search, and choice stages. In addition, Simmons developed a survey that measured five consumption values and how they impacted students choice to attend or not attend Marquette University. Simmons survey was based on the original work done by Sheth et al. (1991), but Simmons expanded on their survey methods. Simmons (1997) developed five hypotheses to direct her study of students college choice. Of these, she found limited support for her hypothesis that market choice is a function of multiple consumption values and insufficient evidence for the existence of SNG values. Also, emotional and epistemic values were more important than expected. Similarly, Stafford s (1994) findings support the importance of the epistemic value. Using a multiple discriminant analysis, Stafford found that the SNG model accurately predicated students choices of elective courses. Furthermore, the result of Simmons study also showed that the SNG model was effective at predicting students choices to attend or not attend. Discriminant analysis using the SNG model
6 58 11(2004) was approximately 81% accurate at predicting students choices. This was significantly better than the traditional model, the logistical regression model, which was only 75% accurate. Simmons (1997) study enabled administrators at Marquette University to better understand the process of students college choices and to further improve marketing strategies, educational products, pricing, distribution and promotion to target and segment potential students. Because the SNG approach is effective at predicting students choice to attend or not attend, Marquette University could focus its efforts and resources on students most likely to attend and respond to the needs of potential students better than its competitors. 3. Instrumentation and Data Collection 3.1 Instrumentation The survey instrument for this study was adapted from Simmons study of Marquette University. The instrumentation was divided into two parts. The first part of the survey instrument gathered participants basic demographic information. The second part included 44 statements. Students were asked to give a numerical rating to each statement, indicating how much each statement influenced their choice of college. 3.2 Data Collection Data collection took place between December 17, 2002, and January 17, Three hundred ninety-five questionnaires were distributed to the freshmen students, who were admitted through the recommendation process to a private university in northern Taiwan. Three hundred fifty-three of those returned were complete, for a response rate of 89.3%.
7 Exploring the Consumer Behavior That Influences Student College Choice Data Analysis and Findings The study used and analyzed the data gathered by the survey instrument. The Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS 10.0 for Windows) was used for data analysis. The demographic information included participants gender, high school type, high school GPA, hometown location, and family income. Although frequencies for No response were reported, their percentages were not included in the computations of total percentages for the aforementioned demographic characteristics. Data regarding the gender of all respondents are presented in Table 1. The majority of the respondents were female (72.2%). Table 1 Respondents Gender Gender Frequency Percent Male Female Total Responses regarding type of high school from which students graduated are presented in Table 2. Respondents were either high-school graduates (52.6%) or senior vocational school graduates (47.4%). One student did not respond to this item in the survey.
8 60 11(2004) Table 2 Respondents High School Type High school type Frequency Valid percent High school Senior vocational school No response Total A summary of respondents regarding their high school or senior vocational school GPA is presented in Table 3. A majority of the respondents had a GPA between 70 and 79 (55.4%). Thirty-four percent had a GPA of 80 or above and three students did not report their GPAs on this item in the survey. Table 3 Respondents High School or Senior Vocational School GPA GPA (Points) Frequency Valid percent 69 or below or above No response Total The data provided in Table 4 describe hometown location of respondents. A majority of respondents hometowns were located in northern Taiwan (78.7%), and one student did not respond to this item in the survey.
9 Exploring the Consumer Behavior That Influences Student College Choice 61 Table 4 Respondents Hometown Location Location of Hometown Frequency Valid percent Northern Taiwan Central Taiwan Southern Taiwan Eastern Taiwan No response Total The data provided in Table 5 describe respondents monthly family incomes as represented in New Taiwan (NT) dollars. The majority of the respondents families (54.7%) earn from 30,001 to 60,000 NT dollars per month, and four students did not report their monthly family incomes on this item in the survey. Table 5 Respondents Monthly Family Income New Taiwan (NT) Dollars Frequency Valid percent 30,000 or less ,001-60, ,001-90, ,001 or more No response Total * Due to rounding, total percentage may not equal 100.0
10 62 11(2004) By applying descriptive statistics, the five values that students used to make their college choice were determined by calculating the composite means and standard deviations. Value means and standard deviations. The overall mean and standard deviation for each of the five values are presented in Table 6. The composite mean for the extent of the consumption values was 3.20, indicating that, on average, students considered the consumption values to have a neutral effect in making their college choices. These five means ranged from 3.35 to 3.05 indicating that the five values had a neutral effect on students in making their college choices. The means from the highest to the lowest were as follows: emotional value (M = 3.35), social value (M = 3.25), epistemic value (M = 3.19), functional value (M = 3.15), and conditional value (M = 3.05). Table 6 Value Means and Standard Deviations Values M SD Emotional value Social value Epistemic value Functional value Conditional value Composite mean Note. N = 353. Functional value. The mean score for each characteristic was computed as a numerical score. A five-point Likert scale was used, wherein 1 means strongly disagree and 5 means strongly agree, to measure respondent perceptions of
11 Exploring the Consumer Behavior That Influences Student College Choice 63 characteristics associated with the selected university on the functional value. Response scores at or above 3.50 indicated some level of agreement with the characteristic, while scores at or below 2.50 indicated some level of disagreement with the characteristic. The items were 20 statements that identified the functional value influencing student college choice. As illustrated in Table 7, the composite mean for the extent of the functional value was 3.15, indicating that, on average, students considered a neutral upon the functional value in making their college choices. The results showed that the means for extent of functional value ranged from 3.98 to 2.67, indicating students opinions varied between agreement and neutral upon each of the 20 characteristics which comprised the functional value to make their college choices. The means of characteristics associated with the selected university from the highest to the lowest were as follows: attractive campus (M = 3.98), adequate security (M = 3.61), friendly and open atmosphere (M = 3.58), safe area (M = 3.37), successful graduates (M = 3.34), genuine concern for students (M = 3.33), preparing students for graduate school (M = 3.29), preparing graduates for a career (M = 3.27), students normally graduate in four years (M = 3.17), good social activities (M = 3.08), near many city activities (M = 3.07), adequate financial aid (M = 3.07), good academic reputation (M = 2.98), scholarships available (M = 2.97), quality academics (M = 2.97), quality students (M = 2.95), appropriate and informative recruiting materials (M = 2.82), inexpensive (M = 2.79), right size (M = 2.74), and right distance from home (M = 2.67).
12 64 11(2004) Table 7 Extent of Functional Value Characteristics (The selected university ) M SD has an attractive campus has adequate security has a friendly, open atmosphere is in a safe area has successful graduates has genuine concern for students prepares students for graduate school prepares graduates for a career students normally graduate in four years has good social activities is located near many city activities offers adequate financial aid has a good academic reputation has a lot of scholarships available has quality academics has quality students sent me appropriate and informative recruiting materials. is inexpensive is the right size is the right distance from home Composite mean Note. N = 353. The Differences that Exist Regarding Each Characteristic of the Selected University Based on Students Demographic Characteristics To determine the relationship between each of the 20 characteristics and gender, independent sample t tests were used. To determine the relationship between each of the 20 characteristics and GPA, one-way ANOVAs were applied to examine
13 Exploring the Consumer Behavior That Influences Student College Choice 65 differences. For each ANOVA, the independent variable was GPA, and dependent variables were the composite response means for each of the 20 characteristics. All significant ANOVAs were followed by Scheffe s post-hoc comparisons to examine the significant differences among the groups. All t tests, ANOVAs, and Scheffe s analyses were conducted at the.05 level of significance. Differences in characteristic means based upon gender. Significant differences were found between males and females regarding perceived the selected university is located near many city activities and has successful graduates (see Table 8). Males (M = 3.24) perceived the university is located near many city activities to be significantly more important than did females (M = 3.00, t = 1.983, p =.048), and males (M = 3.48) perceived the university has successful graduates to be more critical than did females (M = 3.28, t = 2.077, p =.039). Table 8 Differences in Characteristic Means Based upon Gender Characteristics Male Female t value p (N=98) (N=255) is the right distance from home is the right size has quality academics sent me appropriate and informative recruiting materials has a lot of scholarships available students normally graduate in four years is inexpensive is located near many city activities * has good social activities
14 66 11(2004) is in a safe area has a good academic reputation offers adequate financial aid has quality students prepares graduates for a career has successful graduates * has a friendly, open atmosphere has genuine concern for students has adequate security has an attractive campus prepares students for graduate school * p <.05. Differences in characteristic means based upon GPA. Significant differences were found among GPAs regarding perceived the selected university has a friendly, open atmosphere. (see Table 9). Scheffe s post-hoc comparisons were utilized to further examine the significant differences among the groups. Students with higher GPA scores of 70 to79 points (M = 3.61) or 80 points or above (M = 3.64) perceived the selected university has a friendly, open atmosphere to be significantly more important than did students with lower scores of 69 or below (M = 3.22, F = 4.525, p =.011).
15 Exploring the Consumer Behavior That Influences Student College Choice 67 Table 9 Differences in Characteristic Means Based upon GPA GPA (points) Characteristics 69 or below or above (A) (B) (C) F p (N=37) (N=194) (N=119) is the right distance from home is the right size has quality academics sent me appropriate and informative recruiting materials. has a lot of scholarships available. students normally graduate in four years is inexpensive is located near many city activities has good social activities is in a safe area has a good academic reputation. offers adequate financial aid has quality students prepares graduates for a career has successful graduates
16 68 11(2004) has a friendly, open atmosphere * (B,C) (A) (A) has genuine concern for students has adequate security has an attractive campus prepares students for graduate school * p < Conclusions and Recommendations 5.1 Conclusions The following conclusions are based upon the analyses of the data and the reported findings of this study. According to this study, the three most important characteristics associated with the selected university on the functional value affecting respondents choice of college were attractive campus, adequate security and friendly, open atmosphere. In contrast, students thought the university s characteristics of inexpensive, right size, and right distance from home to have the least importance on their college choice. Also, students consider the consumption values to have a neutral effect in making their college choices. The findings described in this study were partially consistent with those of other studies on students college choice. Both attractive campus and adequate security were found as decisively influential to student college choice, this study was supported by Hesel s (1997) survey.
17 Exploring the Consumer Behavior That Influences Student College Choice Recommendations for Practice 1. The selected university s admissions officials who recruit students through the recommendation process should largely aim their efforts at targeting and segmenting potential students who are female and live in northern Taiwan. 2. Students ranked the characteristics associated with the selected university on the functional value from 3.98 to 2.67, indicating students opinions varied between agreement and neutral upon these characteristics. This provides practical information in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the selected university. Administrators need to utilize this information in continuously enhancing the university s strengths and in improving its weaknesses. 3. The selected university can utilize the results of this study to apply institutional marketing to accommodate demands of its current and potential students. 5.3 Recommendations for Further Study 1. Further study should be expanded to include both private schools and public schools to see what differences may exist. 2. This study was conducted in northern Taiwan. Further studies should be conducted in other regions, including central and southern Taiwan, to explore student college choice in these areas.
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20 72 11(2004) 2 Hossler Gallagher 395 t 2