Data for Decision Making: 7 Questions Colleges Should Ask
Whether your goal is to increase market share, understand what programs to offer, or design services to better serve your students, market data may hold the insights you need to reach these goals. Informed decision-making starts with hard data. Forward-thinking colleges and universities are asking the right questions to make data-driven decisions now and into the future.
Data-Driven Decision Making Starts Here
At EDDY, we’re obsessed with data and what it can tell us about higher education programs and practices. Here is a list of seven questions your institution must ask to gather information to make data-based decisions.
These questions center around “the demand theory of education”. Where need, motivation, and the ability to pay for education overlap, you’ll find winning programs and the students to fill them. Each of the questions listed below gets to the heart of one of those three factors and explores the ways they overlap.
1. With how many institutions are you competing?
This question speaks to both need and motivation. We find the answers by talking to actual potential students, those who plan to enroll in higher education sometime in the next few months. You can also talk to current students about other schools they considered during the enrollment process.
Even in an age of online learning, you’re likely to find that many of your competitors are geographically nearby. According to our 2021 Online College Students Report, the majority of students still prefer to enroll in institutions within 50 miles of home. Your target market is likely to be nearby, and your competition is too.
2. What do prospective/actual students think of your institution?
Students are motivated to attend a school that has both the program they want and a reputation they can respect. You can ask students to rate the attractiveness of your school vs. competing institutions.
You may find that they hold your college in high esteem, that they think it’s about the same as others in your space, or that they don’t know your school well enough to rate it. Each answer points to different programs and marketing solutions.
3. Are you successfully competing with other institutions?
This question requires two queries to uncover a data-based answer. First, how many of your inquiries did not enroll and did not apply to other institutions? Second, how many of your enrolled students applied to other institutions?
Knowing the answer to these two queries helps you understand your competitors and to which competitors you’re losing market share. You can then evaluate your marketing and contact strategies to determine areas for improvement. Are you reaching prospective students fast enough? Is your brand awareness losing to a nearby competitor? You may find that you’ll need to refine your brand messaging, engagement, or nurturing process in order to successfully compete for share of mind.
4. Why do some inquirers and applicants not enroll?
This question can show you where you need to improve and what part of the student decision-making process might be outside your control. Market research can survey students who inquired but didn’t enroll to uncover their reasoning. You’ll find out whether it was something you directly control, like the type and level of contact, or factors outside your control like work-related reasons.
For answers such as work challenges, personal scheduling, or finances, you may be able to take steps to improve your offerings to students. Strong support programs, proactive financial aid counseling, career services, and personalized communication can help minimize these barriers.
5. Do decision making factors differ between those who enroll and those who do not enroll?
This is a more nuanced question. It compares the factors most relevant to students who enrolled vs those most relevant to those who inquired or applied but didn’t enroll.
Find out what common values your current (or desired) students have. If you want more of the same kinds of students, you can double down on those factors relevant to students who enroll. When attempting to reach new audiences, consider those factors relevant to unenrolled inquiries and applicants.
6. Why do enrolled students leave? And what can you do to prevent this?
Retention is an issue every college needs to address. We’ve found that academics tend to be the primary reason students leave. This can include: credits not transferring, programs not presented as advertised, or a mismatch in academic expectations, just to name a few.
When you have hard data about why students leave, you can make smart investments in student support services, messaging, and other tools to help them stay.
7. Are leavers generally satisfied with their experience?
You might assume that students who leave are dissatisfied with their experience. That may not be the case. Sometimes external factors do prevent students from continuing. Surveying students who left can help you determine opportunities to improve how you serve students.
Making Data-Driven Decisions for Marketing and Programming
Answering these questions gives you the insight to uncover answers to more specific queries, such as how do we increase our share of the online market, or how can we increase enrollment in our low-performing programs?
To find these answers, conduct market research. Primary and secondary research can help you understand what students want and design programs or messaging to meet their needs. EDDY’s Market Research experts offer several types of market research including market analysis, program feasibility studies, lost student studies, and institutional audits to find the data that drives prospective student decision making.
Equip your institution with essential data to increase enrollments, create in-demand programs, and satisfy students. Reach out to the higher ed market research experts at EDDY today.