Advertising regulations in higher education you need to know


higher education advertising regulations

Advertising in higher education is fun and exciting. After all, what university doesn’t want to brag about top-rated programs, amazing campus life, and boundless career prospects for graduates? From TikTok to streaming videos, there are endless ways to catch the eye of prospective students. But, when marketing higher education, you can’t do whatever you want. The feds are strict about what you say – and penalize rule breakers.  

Schools looking to partner with a higher education marketing agency need to ensure their partner can deliver great ads that also follow federal regulations. In this article, MPP explains exactly what these rules are. Knowing what you can and cannot do will keep your ads in front of the right audience and keep you out of hot water.


Misrepresentation in higher education

Higher education advertising is marketing any type of degree beyond a high school diploma. This includes anything from secondary degrees, graduate-level degrees, to vocational degrees and certifications.

misrepresentation in higher education advertising

Unfortunately, some institutions have used deceptive advertising and false statements to attract students to enroll. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigates claims of false advertising and takes these very seriously. Violators can be slapped with steep fines or other penalties.

In 2019, the FTC cracked down on The University of Phoenix and its parent company. The school paid a record $191 million to resolve allegations that they used deceptive advertisements falsely touting their relationships and job opportunities with companies such as AT&T, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Twitter, and The American Red Cross. 

Not only do the fines hurt, but misleading advertising can harm your reputation. When students are researching your institution, do you want them to find articles about marketing lawsuits?

things you can't say in higher education advertising

Advertising regulations in higher education – what you can’t say

The FTC looks out for misrepresentation in higher education advertising. These are false or misleading statements about financial charges or financial aid, the employability of graduates, statements about faculty, and transferring credits. We go into more detail about what you can’t say below.


Misrepresenting financial charges of the institution

The cost of higher education is often a major consideration for students. However, stay vigilant when you mention dollar signs. According to Cornell Law School, higher education advertisements cannot contain the following information:

misrepresenting financial charges in higher education

Examples of financial misrepresentation

  • Offers of scholarships to pay all or part of a course
  • Whether a particular price is customary for a course
  • The cost of the program and the refund policy of the institution if the student does not complete the program
  • The availability or nature of any financial assistance offered to students, including the availability of part-time employment
  • A student’s responsibility to repay any loans, regardless of whether the student is successful in completing the program and obtaining employment
  • The student’s right to reject any financial aid or other assistance, or whether the student must apply for a particular type of financial aid
misrepresenting higher education employability is illegal

Misrepresenting employability of the graduates of the institution

Employability stats sound like an awesome way to improve enrollment. That’s usually why students seek out higher education, right? Although this sounds like an excellent recruitment tool, institutions cannot make claims about the career outcomes of their graduates, including:

Examples of employability misrepresentation

  • Whether a career is in demand 
  • The percentage of graduates who get jobs in their chosen field
  • Whether the institution can help a graduate get a job
  • The salary a graduate can expect to earn
  • The relationship of the institution with any organization, employment agency, or other agency providing authorized training leading directly to employment 
  • Employment objectives that the courses and programs are designed to meet 

Claims about the faculty and equipment

You might have state-of-the-art equipment and faculty brimming with accolades, but unfortunately, you can’t use these as marketing material. Higher education institutions cannot make claims about faculty and equipment, including:

  • The nature, age, and availability of the training devices or equipment  
  • The number of staff or availability of faculty
  • Qualifications, including the training and experience, of the faculty and other personnel of the institution
claims about school equipment in higher education advertising
college transfer credit icon

Misrepresenting transfer credits 

Transfer students are a unique group. According to a report by National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC), about 2.1 million college students transferred between institutions in the 2020-21 academic year. If you’re an institution that accepts transfer students, make sure your marketing steers clear of these points:

  • Misrepresenting the type, specific source, or nature and extent, of the accreditation of the institution or a course of education at the institution  
  • Whether a student may transfer course credits to another institution
  • Conditions under which the institution will accept transfer credits earned at another institution

Be smart with your higher education advertising

Prospective students choose schools that prepare them for a future career, grow their skills, and provide real-world experiences. Whether you’re advertising to a high schooler deciding where they want to go to college, or a twenty-something looking to enter the trades, one thing remains the same – you have to be truthful in advertising. Unfortunately, this article can’t cover every single law. For a deeper dive into higher education regulations, we recommend reading the Cornell Law School page for educational institutions.

If you or your agency don’t know the rules, you could put your reputation at risk. Set yourself up for success by working with a trusted agency partner that knows the ins and outs of higher education advertising.

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