Nonprofits vs.
Marketing challenges and opportunities

As everyone knows, this is a challenging time in higher education. Competition is growing, operating costs are increasing, government funding is shrinking, and downward pressure on tuition can make it difficult to meet students’ educational needs.

Nonprofit and for-profit institutions often compete over the same pool of applicants. Here, we look at what both types of schools are up against…and what they each have in their favor.


Nonprofit schools have many competitive advantages over for-profits. In addition to typically higher graduation rates and alumni satisfaction levels, as well as lower tuition costs, they also tend to have greater name recognition and prestige, and more robust alumni networks.

However, squeezed between rising costs and shrinking funding streams, nonprofit institutions have little choice but to raise tuition…even while most family incomes aren’t increasing at nearly the same pace. Remaining even relatively affordable can mean deferring infrastructure investments and technology upgrades.

This, in turn, can make it difficult to attract today’s students, who increasingly expect education to be flexible and available on-demand. Funding challenges aside, nonprofit schools must somehow adapt to students’ changing needs and expectations, while also leveraging the strength of their existing reputations.


For-profit schools face some hurdles in attracting students – hurdles that nonprofits are often quick to point out. For-profits’ tuition costs tend to be higher, their graduation rates lower, and their alumni satisfaction levels less impressive. All these negatives may fuel the public perception that for-profits are more concerned with making money for owners and shareholders than offering a first-rate education.

This perception is one that for-profit schools must overcome…and many are actively working to do so.

On the plus side, for-profits often offer more flexible schedules and learning options that can be very appealing to the busy students of today, especially non-traditional students and adult learners.

However, nonprofit schools are actively working on catching up in this area…so for-profit institutions shouldn’t take this historical advantage for granted.

While recognizing these challenges and opportunities may seem easy, navigating them can be harder. Schools of both types must emphasize their strengths and combat negative perceptions – all in the precious few seconds they may have to make the right first impression.

If you’d like to get your message across more successfully, we’re here to help.

Stay tuned to Backe social, where we’ll continue to explore the challenges that professional associations face today and tomorrow – in our Higher Education series.

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