Product Placement at Universities

DellHallPublic higher education in the U.S. is not in good shape—and the main reason is lack of funds.  States will not increase their funding, and often they severely limit tuition increases.  My university appears to have hit upon a solution:  product placement and direct advertising.  The new computer building, the Gates Building, is part of the Dell Computer  Science Center, and has a Dell logo and signs for eBay and PayPal in front of the building.

But why stop here?  Five hundred students stare at me for 1-1/4 hours 28 times each fall semester.  The university could ask me to advertise—wear a cap, or a t-shirt, just like a tennis star—showing the product of whichever companies bid the most for the rights to advertise on my apparel during class.  While I would probably insist on some of the royalties, the bilateral monopoly between the university and me would surely raise funds for the university.  With enough professors required to do this, public universities could alleviate some of their financial problems. No doubt readers have similar clever ideas for product placement that would help fund public universities, albeit at some cost in dignity.


I'm for this primarily because it would be entertaining to see a professor, say, giving a lecture on monopoly pricing while wearing a Microsoft shirt.

Incidentally, I'm also highly amused by Hamermesh advocating for selling out to corporations.


I wonder where this "lack of funds" idea comes from? The local university is planning to spend something like $30 million on a supposed "Student Fitness Center" that will primarily be used to train its sports teams. Lack of funds, or misapplication of funds?


I agree with the misappropriation of funds. I went to a large state research university with enough money to replace the grass twice a year while undergraduates take classes with over 200 people packed in one lecture hall and only multiple choice tests to check if we were learning

Kentucky Packrat

It's interesting that the amount of money received per student by public institutions is at an all-time high, indexed against inflation, yet college education is failing from a lack of money.

Excuse me, I think my sarcasm button is stuck on.

There are three fundamental issues with colleges. The first is non-academic spending. Having a Vice President of Diversity and a Director of On-Campus Exercise Facilities might fit a wonderful checkmark list, but they divert money away from professors and classrooms. When colleges try to have the academic version of guns and butter, something has to give.

The second is that they're trying to grow too big and produce too much product. Most careers (including my own) that "require" a college education are really a trade that require no such thing. Between 50% and 75% of the people coming out of college are packing an education that will be of little to no help in actually finding a career that pays for a lifetime of work. By encouraging this dilution of their product, colleges have made their job harder.

Finally, no producer of products can survive long-term on a business model that bankrupts their customers. 15 years ago, it was theoretically possible to work a full-time job over the summer and a part-time job during the year and pay for college. (Hard, but still possible.) Now, the only way to do so is to have a job that's so good you'd be better off skipping the college entirely. Coming out of college 100k+ in debt is crazy; such a person is functionally bankrupt. Grants and loans have distorted the "real dollar" cost of the institution far past its breaking point.



I wish I could give this comment ten thumbs up.


If college undergrads had robust intellects capable of scrutinizing the messages shown to them, I wouldn't really care. Unfortunately, the reality is that we've raised a generation who remain impressionable children well into their 20s, and through the creation or mismanagement of various institutions we've fabricated a standard template ensuring that future generations will follow this same pattern. Given that reality, I don't think advertising to the captive audience of an undergrad college classroom is moral.

(Of course, this also presumes the undergrads are awake, sober, and sentient enough to even notice they are being advertised to.)

If you think my view of college students is excessively harsh, I urge you to go sit in a freshman English composition class at a state university for 5 minutes.

But commenter James, above, gets at a larger point: why do universities need these extra funds in the first place? Institutes of higher learning got by perfectly well without product placement and "branded education" for thousands of years. What degradations have occurred that they are now in need of sellout money? Do we dare answer that question honestly?


Enter your name...

One of the "degradations" is that professors (especially very senior full professors) are paid a lot more than they used to be.

I'm not sure that this is really a problem. I'm also not sure how much this is offset by paying lecturers and adjuncts low wages.

It would be interesting to have someone compare budget expenses over the decades at a handful of representative schools. We know that some facilities and room/board costs have gone up (fancier buildings, internet access for all students, bigger dorm rooms, better food, more institutionalized support for minority students), that other costs have gone down (fewer faculty secretaries), and that some things have changed radically without affecting classroom (science research paid by outside funding, which may be a profit center for the institution), but I've never seen a really good study on the matter.


A few of the degradations I was thinking of can be illustrated by the example of my alma mater:

-Its most popular sports team, men's basketball, was only able to reduce--but not eliminate--the budget deficit created by the other sports teams. Most colleges, including my alma mater, don't have an Ohio State football program, and so their athletic programs often net in the red. Title IX certainly doesn't help with this problem.

-While as a hungry penniless student I'd have to shell out upwards of $8 to get a meal at the Student Union cafeteria (Taco Bell across the street could fill me up for under $3), the fitness center in that same building was renovated and they installed an indoor rock wall.

-Part of the aforementioned renovation of the Student Union included a sprawling brand new Multicultural and Diversity Center. Apart from the Diversity Officers who worked there doing what seemed like very little, this area was always empty.

-There were a host of departments offering useless degrees (and paying professors lots of money to teach them) in subjects like Women's Studies, Film Theory and Criticism, and Popular History.

How might schools cut out the fat in a way that reduces tuition and budget problems?

-Eliminate intermural sports programs that cannot pay for themselves
-Eliminate most degrees that are both non-STEM and non-vocational (for example, keep film production but eliminate film theory)
-Eliminate Cultural Centers, Diversity Departments, and the like
-Eliminate on-campus housing and replace it with access to local apartment buildings that compete with each other
-Eliminate meal plans and food services and replace them with access to restaurants and grocery stores that compete with each other
-Drastically raise the bar for admissions
-Eliminate affirmative action admissions
-Give scholarships to outstanding students based on their need only, not based on diversity
-Don't build new facilities if old facilities still function well

And most importantly,

-Don't lend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to people who under normal circumstances would never qualify for such a loan.
-Stop talking about college as if it's a standard part of education to which everyone is entitled and without which one should not expect employment or fulfillment.



You might be disappointed to discover that the ad space on the pretty girl sitting in the front row is generating more impressions and a much better conversion rate than the logo on your hat!


Why stop at wearable ads? I'm pretty sure companies would be more willing to pay for a spot where they are sure to have students' undivided attention: this exam question brought to you by Goldman Sachs, a great place to work!


This exam has been sponsored by Adobe. Adobe, because we know you don't buy our products anymore.

Lindsay Resnick

My alma mater, Georgia Tech, has the Ford Environmental Science and Technology Building, with a big ole Ford logo engraved into the stone. Here's the best picture I could get, from Google Street View:


Advertise for Flomax or Avodart on the urinal cakes in the professor restrooms. The manufacturer gets plenty of ad time with the target audience.