4 Data Sources for Higher Ed Every Institution Must Apply

By: Emma Rose Apr 18, 2022

4 Data Sources for Higher Ed Every Institution Must Apply

Make Smarter Choices with These Data Sources for Higher Ed

Repeating what you’ve always done won’t help your college or university thrive in a rapidly changing higher education market. The right data helps you understand what’s working and what might need to change. Every institution should apply these four data sources: internal, external, primary, and secondary.

Aggregating and decoding this data will help you make smarter choices about marketing and program offerings. You can use it to improve student outcomes and offer an exceptional student experience. We’ll show you how each one fits into your data-driven decision making process.

Internal Data Colleges Can Collect

You probably have at least a few internal data collection systems in place already. Most institutions collect data from students, alumni, and faculty to meet reporting requirements and monitor outcomes. You can also use that date to inform marketing strategies and business decisions.

Other types of internal data include: 

  • Surveys of enrolled students, early leavers, alumni, faculty and administrators
  • Behavior tracking around emails and other communications
  • Recordings of coaching and support calls                                                       

Internal data helps you get better at finding students like the ones you already have. It also equips you to keep giving enrolled students more of what they want and need. You can use this data to really understand your students, even when the population is in a period of change.

External Data About Higher Education

While internal data looks inward at your institution, external data widens the scope to understand factors that could affect your programs. It includes a wider pool of students, potential students, and even employers.

Collect external data from: 

External data can help you understand what students and employers are looking for. It helps you understand where your institution fits into the market. Using insights from external data, you can attract new student populations and decide which programs to offer. 

Primary Data Sources Colleges Can Create

Primary data sources tend to be more expensive and harder to collect. They’re also valuable because they give you direct access to student wants and needs.

Secondary sources rely on aggregate data that might not apply to your institution, program or region. But primary data comes from current and former students of your program. It includes real people in your region who will enroll or are enrolling.

Collect primary data through:

  • Surveys
  • Focus groups
  • Interviews

Since you’re speaking directly to real people, you can understand how students view your specific institution or program.

Secondary Data for Colleges and Universities

Sometimes you want to look beyond your programs and offerings. You need to understand general trends or where the industry as a whole is going. That’s when secondary data becomes valuable.

Secondary data is also less expensive to collect than primary data. In some cases, you can get it for free. 

Secondary data sources include: 

  • Report reviews
  • Surveys of existing data sets
  • Analysis of data originally collected for another purpose
  • The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System IPEDS

Our eLearning Index 2022 is an example of secondary data. We collected information on the demand for degrees available today based on market interest and student enrollment data. You can use this report as secondary research to inform decision making around what programs to add or modify.

Colleges and Universities Need All 4 Data Sources

Although it might seem that certain data sources for higher ed are more valuable than others, they all have their uses. Your institution can make the best decisions by relying on a mix of internal, external, primary and secondary data. 

Combining data sources gives you a full picture of how current and prospective students view your institution and its programs. You can use this big-picture view to make informed decisions about marketing, program offerings, support services, and student communication.

Gathering all of this data can be labor intensive, and interpreting it takes both skill and time. That’s where a market research partner like EDDY’s Market Research can help. Their team of higher ed market research experts can help you collect, interpret, and use the data. Contact them to start exploring your market research needs.