Voutsinos: Corporatism in higher education is prominent, unbreakable

By Nick Voutsinos / Columnist

Universities across the country often trumpet positions held by distinguished alumni in corporate America, telling students that recruiters from these companies flock to these schools searching for new, fresh talent. 

But they’re only telling you half of the story. 

Corporations are no longer just looking to universities for intelligent potential employees, but for a continuing, steady relationship with a profitable demographic.

Yet, even though corporations are marketing where we eat, study and sleep, we tend not to really notice until they’re gone. Personally, when I first returned to campus this semester and noticed that the Taco Bell under Towers was missing, I almost had a panic attack. Fortunately, I found that I could still get my fill of Crunchwrap Supremes, which I had come to know and love last year, at the Union. 

Most students can relate to this because one’s own personal loyalty to a product is just a huge part of the college experience nowadays. Just imagine if Chipotle closed its doors or if Dunkin’ Donuts shut down. If you happen to be a fan of either, you would be devastated. Qdoba or Starbucks wouldn’t compare for some of us. 

This is the kind of loyalty corporations are trying to condition among college students, and it is becoming clear that the increasing commercialization of the college campus is clearly working. College students spend about $46 billion on consumer purchases every year — which, to no one’s surprise, includes products from the aforementioned corporations. 

This could be partly due to the fact that name-brand products are literally all around us. But corporate sponsorship has been instilled in us since we arrived. If you can recall, it’s a part of our Pitt orientation process. 

Under the guise of helping freshmen assimilate into college, Target takes advantage of an easy marketing opportunity by holding an all-night shopping spree during orientation week. The event has become a huge part of the week for incoming students, both practically and socially.

Mark Britton, a chief executive at the Mr. Youth marketing agency, describes this strategy as, “marketing through the students, rather than marketing to students.” Essentially, the idea is that there will be more trust in a product if it is advertised through a university, especially when the marketing is done through individuals who share our interests, some of whom are actually students.

For instance, many companies have an army of “student ambassadors” on various campuses. In fact, there are about 10,000 nationwide. For cash, work experience and networking, college students serve as cost-effective public relations agents for companies, organizing events and promoting brands. Take notice of this during finals week while you cram at Hillman: People travel table to table handing out free Red Bulls. You know, because Red Bull wants you to have the energy to ace that exam.

The prominence of a corporation-university bond is almost unbreakable. And at times, why would you want to go against the grain? The opportunity cost of making such a decision is great: Students who decide not to buy into the system will find it more difficult to get by. From opportunities to save money to the convenience of having resources greatly available, universities have made the choice simple: Utilize the resources provided to you or tough luck. However, one question comes to mind: If universities have the ability to persuade students to choose one corporate route over another, what else are they capable of?

Write Nick at [email protected].