Publication Date

Fall 2015

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Antony D. Norman (Director), Brian W. Meredith, and Kristin B. Wilson

Degree Program

Educational Leadership Doctoral Program

Degree Type

Doctor of Education


This research focused on the recruitment activities of higher education social media administrators and observed student interactions within institutional social media communities. The individual social media administrators interviewed for this qualitative case study shared their experiences using social media for prospective and admitted student outreach. More than 1800 social media comment threads from dozens of students at the five participating four-year institutions were observed during the yield period of the students’ college search processes. This research used Hossler and Gallagher’s Three Phase Model of Student College Choice, specifically the second of the three phases, the search phase, to explore student connectivity with institutions during their college choice process. The study also referenced Vincent Tinto’s retention theories relative to retaining college applicants. The study positioned the second phase as crucial for colleges and universities to aggressively reach out to students in effort to establish relationships that may lead to a student’s increased affinity with the institution and an ultimate choice to enroll. Key findings of this research indicated that institutions, regardless of size or geographic location, place a high value on social media during the recruitment process, both for engagement and to offer customer service to incoming students. Higher education social media administrators showed high levels of campus collaboration, and dedication to providing real time student service with limited resources. Patterns discovered through an observation of institutional private social student communities indicated a discrepancy in the current industry focus on outcomes and accessibility. Observed students expressed interest primarily in forming friendships, finding roommates, attending campus events, sharing personal interests, and expressing excitement and frustration associated with the enrollment processes at their respective institutions. Higher education social media administrators, admissions, enrollment management, and marketing leaders may use this information to make more informed strategic decisions with regard to communication to prospective and admitted students. They may base their strategies and alter their messaging based on the spaces that students use most frequently and the topics of conversation that mean the most to students during certain points of the recruitment cycle.


Communication Technology and New Media | Educational Leadership | Instructional Media Design