The Data-Driven Approach To Help Higher Ed Meet Student Needs

By: Carol Aslanian Jan 27, 2022

The Data-Driven Approach To Help Higher Ed Meet Student Needs

Get Data, Make Better Higher Ed Program Decisions

Higher Education runs on data. From the programs you offer to the marketing messages you share; data helps you use your resources wisely to meet shifting demands. With reliable and sound data, you can make better decisions. That’s why market research is such a powerful tool for today’s higher education leaders. 

Gone are the days of relying on web searches and past experiences to guide decision making. An online search can offer some insight and may be a place to start, but the data you get from these sources are rarely targeted to your students and their situation. At a time when the education industry is changing at a rapid pace, what worked last year may not work as well next year. Market research, and particularly targeted market research, is more valuable than ever.

What has Changed in the Higher Ed Industry?

In short, it feels like so much has changed. The pandemic has upended the higher education industry in two far-reaching ways. First, it accelerated existing trends. Second, it disrupted long-standing patterns. Some impacts have been unpredictable. For example, normally an economic downturn fuels a burst of new enrollments. That hasn’t happened this time around.

Even seemingly straightforward shifts, such as the move toward remote learning, may bring unforeseen challenges. If you feel like everything is in flux, you’re not alone. Media consumption habits are changing, student populations are generally older and more diverse, and more and more, students are focused on how higher education can help them get better jobs.

But you already know all of this. The question is: What’s next? You can wait for the patterns to emerge and hope you can adjust quickly enough, or you can seek out the data to make informed, proactive decisions now.

Data-Driven Decisions for Programs of All Sizes

Well-researched data reveal what is happening now, and why. Who is enrolling, from where, and what are their motivations and expectations? This insight will help you better meet student demands and expectations, leading to more enrollments and completions.

Another area where data can be immediately valuable is in helping institutions capitalize on the technology investments they made as a result of the pandemic. It can help them forecast what students will seek next and how technology can meet their expectations. For those schools that were early online learning adopters, insights from market research can help you continue to meet the demands of the broader and more diverse population seeking online learning.

Market research has long helped institutions make smart decisions about their program catalogs, formats, and services. It has guided their choices about which programs to add and which to sunset and delivered what format. Perhaps equally important, it has helped make the case for those changes to faculty and administrators. This type of data is even more valuable when education is in a period of change.

Similarly, market research can give you the data to troubleshoot lagging enrollments, either by better understanding your current student base or by gaining insight into new markets. It can help:

  • Traditional private institutions better understand what their potential consumer wants and needs.
  • Larger online institutions fend off smaller innovators that might otherwise chip away at their student base.
  • Community colleges extend their footprint and reach a wider student population.

Do You Need Primary or Secondary Market Research?

The two broad types of market research offer different insights, but there are tradeoffs. While primary research allows you to gather information on a carefully curated sample, it is typically harder to collect and requires a larger investment. This is particularly beneficial when surveying students in your specific market such as students who are currently enrolled in programs, your alumni, or people with an expressed intention to enroll in a program you may offer in the near future. It can help you:

  • Speak more directly to student needs and motivations
  • Understand why people inquire but don’t apply
  • Spot trends about why they choose not to enroll after they’re admitted
  • Determine if your market would value a particular program or course 

Secondary research (the review of existing national and regional databases) often takes a wider view, pulls from a broader sample, and is often widely available. It focuses on trends and available data to draw conclusions about your market. If you’re considering a new program, secondary market research can also help you make an informed decision.

Starting the Research Process

While we can’t perfectly predict what the future holds, market research can help institutions of higher education confirm existing practices but, even more important, identify new directions by providing valuable data and information.

Whether you need a program feasibility study or full-scale market analysis, EDDY can help. Led by Carol Aslanian, founder of Aslanian Market Research, our team of higher ed market research experts can help you chart a course for success in 2022 and beyond. Let’s start a conversation about your market research needs and the data that will guide you to make data-driven decisions on your programs, marketing, and student services.