Tech-Savvy College Students Maintain Healthy Spending, Continue To Gather Gadgets and Prefer Campus Marketing Tactics

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re:fuel agency’s 2014 College Explorer study outlines the latest in college student spending, technology habits, advertising and media consumption, brand loyalty, product purchase behavior and more.

re:fuel agency College Explorer 2014

This Fall, 21.6 million college students will head back to campus to kick off the 2014-2015 school year, and they’ll do so boasting immense buying power and wielding a vast arsenal of gadgets. Today, re:fuel agency, a leading marketing firm that connects brands with niche consumer segments through scalable and impactful media and promotions solutions, has released findings from its 14th annual College Explorer survey, powered by Crux Research. The largest annual study of its kind, the 2014 edition offers perspective on college student spending, technology habits, advertising and media consumption, brand loyalty, product purchase behavior and more.


  •          Discretionary Spending Shows No Sign of Slowing Down: College students control a massive $545 billion in total annual spending power, including $163 billion in discretionary purchasing and $382 billion in non-discretionary spending (those dollars allotted to tuition, room & board and class materials).
  •     Food Reigns Supreme: A full 31 percent (or $50 billion) of total annual discretionary spending is dedicated to food purchased in grocery stores, at convenience stores and in restaurants. Automotive (including car payments, insurance, maintenance and gas) is the second largest category for student discretionary spending at $31.6 billion, followed by clothing and shoes at $18.6 billion.
  •     Optimists, They Forecast Healthy Post-Graduation Earnings: Respondents’ forecasted earnings increased slightly to $49,222 from $48,788 in 2013. When it comes to where they want to work, 28 percent of students are unsure, but 17% say a small business and 13% wish to be self-employed.
  •     Online Courses Supplement, Not Replace, On-Campus Learning: The number of students taking at least one course online has jumped to 57 percent (from 45 percent last year and 23 percent in 2009) and 42% of students taking an online course are doing so from a college other than the one they attend in person.
  •     The College Campus Is The Hub: Despite the increase in online coursework, students continue to spend a significant amount of time on their college campus. On average, students spend 10.7 hours per day on campus during the week and an additional 6.3 hours per day on weekends.
  •     Students Gather Gadgets: Students own an average of 6.8 total devices. Topping the list is the ubiquitous laptop, owned by 86 percent of students. Smartphones are once again in the second slot and are now owned by 78 percent of students (a 9 percent increase from last year). Rounding out top-owned devices are video game consoles (76 percent) and printers (69 percent). When asked what devices they intend to purchase in the coming year, once again, smartphones are the frontrunners with 35 percent of students planning to acquire one.
  •     Social Media Usage Evolving: College students continue to be avid social media users, but not all sites are created equal. Facebook is the clear leader with 86 percent of students reporting they use the site once a week or more, which is consistent with last year. Instagram, in second place for the second consecutive year, is used by 42 percent of students (up 40 percent from last year). Twitter and Snapchat came in third and fourth with 39 and 29 percent respectively.
  •     Along with Social Media, Texting Enters The Classroom: 34 percent of students say they use social media platforms while in class. 63 percent report texting during class (and 22 percent say it’s to someone who is in the same class).
  •     Ad Avoidance Greatest with Digital: Even though social media usage remains steady among students, 33 percent of them say they avoid advertising on social media sites. Other ad types they consider intrusive are pop-up ads/banners (56 percent say they avoid them), pre-roll ads (40 percent) and text message ads (47 percent). On the other end of the spectrum, tactics more welcomed into students’ lives include sampling efforts (just 15 percent avoidance), sponsored events (19 percent) and ads that are integrated into their immediate environment, like on-campus signage (16 percent) and campus newspaper ads (21 percent).

“The college years remain a pivotal point in a consumer’s life – it’s a time when a lot of lifelong consumer behavior and purchase patterns are being initiated and ingrained,” said Derek S. White, re:fuel agency’s President & CEO and also a founding organizer of the College Explorer in 2000. “If a brand can create equity in those years by using tactics that students respond well to, it can pay dividends for years to come.”

To learn more, or to access additional findings of this study, email collegeexplorer(at)refuelagency(dot)com

The data has been weighted to reflect the composition of the college student population aged 18-34. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. With probability samples of this size, one can say with 95 percent certainty that the overall results have a sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points of what they would be if the entire U.S. college student population had been polled. This was not a probability sample.

re:fuel agency is a leading marketing firm connecting a wide range of brands with niche consumer segments through scalable and impactful media and promotions solutions. With decades of expertise serving youth, multicultural, military and local audiences, re:fuel agency deploys brand campaigns that speak to these consumers in their world, throughout their day. The business was formerly a central part of Alloy Media + Marketing. re:fuel agency has locations nationwide, with headquarters in New York City, and offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, CA, and Cranbury, NJ.

To learn more visit

Crux Research is a market research firm that partners with clients to develop winning products and services, build powerful brands, create engaging marketing strategies, enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty, improve products and services, and get the most out of their advertising.

Using quantitative and qualitative methods, Crux connects organizations with their customers in a wide range of industries, including education, consumer goods, media and advertising, technology, retail, business-to-business and non-profit.

To learn more about Crux Research, visit

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