Marketplace Landscape

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Market Size - Leads Purchased to Find Students that are Searching for Online Education Options: US

While there is no preexisting information to fully answer your question, we've used the available data to pull together key findings:
The market size for paid leads in the higher education sector may be as high as $1.75 billion. However, insufficient data is available regarding the market size specifically associated with online education.

Below you'll find an outline of our research methodology to better understand why the information you've requested is publicly unavailable, as well as a deep dive into our findings.


After my initial searches for sources that might directly answer your question proved fruitless, I looked for market reports for the lead generation services industry with the hope that such reports might segment the industry by end user industries (such as education). Unfortunately, I found no reports that offered these details.

So then, I looked for data relating to the marketing or advertising budgets for higher education institutions, specifically online education, and how these budgets are allocated across channels. I also sought out market reports on the education marketing industry, hoping they may offer figures on overall marketing spend. However, the information in such reports is largely paywalled. In addition, I searched for information regarding higher education or online education admissions or student recruitment budgets and methods. But again, this information was quite limited.

Then, I shifted my focus to online education lead generation companies to see if I could find information on market share for these companies, but that information was not publicly available.

I also searched industry sources such as Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, EAB, and the Education Marketing Association.


A 2015 article by education insights company Noodle states that the market size for lead generation services was $1.75 billion at that time. The article is not entirely clear on whether this figure represents the entire lead generation market or the education portion of that market.

However, according to Volcom Education, an education-focused marketing firm, 17% of a school's marketing budget should be allocated to paid leads. A 2016 article at Inside Higher Ed suggests that the current market spend of all US colleges is around $10 billion per year. Using these two figures, we can roughly estimate the market size for lead generation for higher education to be $1.7 billion ($10 billion x .17), which is quite close to the aforementioned figure. That said, the Volcom article does not qualify paid leads and likely includes things such as pay per click advertising, which may skew the figure.

Though slightly dated (2014), an article on the lead generation industry notes that education is one of the largest industries served, primarily due to the influx of online education options. Lead generation for education has an average cost-per-lead of $65.69, according to Marketing Charts. Another Noodle article suggests schools pay anywhere from "$20 to $150 per lead."


The Wall Street Journal notes that the education sector allocates around 11% of their overall budget to marketing. However, Inside Higher Ed says that colleges spend around 1.5–6.0 percent of the overall operating budget. An undated article that references 2017 data suggests that education marketing budgets are expected to increase 20.4% in 12 months.

The education marketing services industry is expected to grow at a CAGR of over 11% from 2017 to 2021, but the industry's market size is hidden behind a paywall.

US online education market size is expected to reach $2.857 billion by 2022. However, despite an exhaustive search, I could not find data regarding average marketing budgets or lead generation metrics for this sector of the education market.

The education sector spends $1.2 billion each year on Google ads, and 24% of that is generated by the online education category. Higher education institutions are allocating most of their online advertising budget to website and social media strategies, while about 25% goes to "other," which includes things like pay per click and partnerships.

And EAB survey found that universities spend $344,531 per year and about $88 per student on admissions marketing.


An article by Noodle outlines four primary forms of lead generation practice in the education sector. They are:
• White Label Marketing: Used by "90% of lead generation vendors," this method involves the vendor hosting an advertiser's content in order to pass on leads.
• Recruitment: This method involves paying recruiters a commission for students who enroll.
• Social networks: This method uses social channels like Zinch (now Chegg) to give more direct access to students.
• Matching: Matching sites attempt to match students and schools based on student questionnaires. This method delivers higher quality leads.

Several articles discuss the shady tactics some colleges use to generate leads, such as hiring companies to generate online clicks and inquires, which are then sent to call centers. Some of these schools offer a percentage of tuition to these lead generators, which is a violation of Title IV regulations.


In conclusion, US higher education institutions may spend as much as $1.75 billion on lead generation, but data specific to the online education subcategory was not available.
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Marketplace Landscape - Purchasing Leads of Students that are Searching for an Online College.

A media article from Inside Higher Ed gave several examples of colleges and universities that are purchasing leads for online courses, and how they are doing it. The institutions include Wichita State University, Colorado State University, and Cabrini University. Also, All Campus partners with various institutions including University of Delaware, George Washington University and Purdue University to purchase leads for their online courses.

After an extensive search, only one media article, from Inside Higher Ed, directly discussing colleges and universities that are purchasing leads for online courses, and how they are doing it, was found. In order to find more institutions, the websites of some online education lead generation service providers was explored for information on their clients. The service providers include Emerge Education, Chatter Buzz, All Campus, NRCCUA, and ACT. Only information from All Campus was included in the review because they clearly focused on online courses with examples of their clients. There was no specific focus on online courses from all the other service providers, with not much detail on this category provided, hence they were not included in the review.

Companies purchasing leads of students searching for an Online College

Wichita State University
Wichita State University has 24 online programs and they concentrate on digital marketing to get new students. Their most successful lead generation strategy is paid search. They purchase search terms that are narrowly focused. According to Mark Porcaro, executive director of online learning at Wichita State University, “We’ll bid on really specific terms, such as ‘online degrees in Kansas.” They also purchase tracking pixels, small images that marketers deploy in tracking the number of visitors to their website or digital ad. They also buy Facebook ads. “A Facebook ad can do very specific marketing.” “Facebook knows who people, are and they know the things they like. We look for students [on Facebook] who are like our students but who don’t know Wichita State,” Porcaro said.
Colorado State University
50% of the 20,000 online students of Colorado State University don’t reside in Colorado. The University works with a digital marketing firm to target the websites of many of their online students who are in the military or employees of corporations before they resolve to pursue a degree online.
Cabrini University
Cabrini University is a private small liberal arts college in Radnor, Pa.
They always seek for new, creative and cost-effective strategies to market their online programs in order to be differentiated from nearby, better-funded institutions in Philadelphia. They conducted a unique promotion through Carvertise, an advert agency by purchasing decals with glossy, full-body vinyl designs attached to cars to publicize their online programs for six months.
It helped Cabrini produce a double-digit increase in deposits for online courses this fall”. “I want to measure lead generation. That is the reality”, Celia Cameron, the institution’s vice president of marketing and communications said.
University of Delaware, George Washington University and Purdue University
All Campus partnered with University of Delaware to introduce and achieve extensive market potential for its Master of Science in Applied Statistics online degree.
The services provided by All Campus to boost the success of the program include marketing, recruitment, enrollment and retention through the use of their proprietary analytics platform among other strategies.

The George Washington University and Purdue University also partnered with All Campus to provide marketing and student enrollment support services for George Washington’s online Master of Engineering in Cybersecurity Policy and Compliance program, as well as Purdue’s online Lean Six Sigma certification and project management programs.
All Campus deploys all facets of digital marketing to produce student leads for the online degree programs of their clients. They combine SEO skills with their media-buying resources to maximize enrollment.
Real-time statistics provide All Campus with deep conversion metrics and enrollment projections that enable us to optimize every marketing campaign and fine-tune our enrollment services for our university partners,” said Joe Diamond, CEO of All Campus.

Other clients of All Campus include University of Florida, University of Arizona, Lynn University, and Pace University.


Wichita State University, University of Delaware, George Washington University and Purdue University are examples of institutions purchasing leads of students that are searching for an online college.

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From Part 01