Needs Assessment vs Demand Analysis: Data for Higher Ed Decisions

By: Carol Aslanian May 02, 2022

Needs Assessment vs Demand Analysis: Data for Higher Ed Decisions

Needs Assessment vs Demand Analysis

In higher education, we talk a great deal about what students need. They may need degrees to get jobs or support to persist toward their credential. Market research may help uncover these factors through needs assessments. There’s just one problem: What students need may not be the same as what they demand.

As anyone who has ever “needed” to eat healthier can tell you, there’s often a big difference between what one needs and what one does. That’s where demand analysis comes in. Demand analysis shows what potential students are ready, willing, and able to do. 

We compare these two types of market research to help you understand when to use each one to make data-driven decisions for higher education practices.

What is a Needs Assessment?

What a student needs may be different from what they’re able to do at this moment. Someone may need a degree, but not have the money or time to pursue one. Because people usually have more than one priority, their needs are relative. A long-term need for a bachelor’s degree may be outweighed by the immediate need to pay the bills.

Even so, many market research studies focus on needs assessment. They find a sampling of people who match the demographics of their target student and ask questions like:

  • Do you believe a degree will help advance your career?
  • What services do you want from your institution of higher ed?
  • Would you prefer to take online, hybrid, or in-person classes?

Needs assessment relies mostly on secondary testimony. Those surveyed fit a certain demographic category, but may not be ready or willing to enroll in school right now. It works best when seeking soft answers to soft questions. You should keep in mind that the statistics may be inflated and the information you receive may not be actionable right away.

Needs assessment is good at identifying barriers to learning. What is keeping students from enrolling? What are they worried about or struggling with? Needs assessments can answer these types of questions.

What is Demand Analysis?

A demand is more immediate than a need. It explores what potential students are ready, willing, and able to do right now. Someone might need a master’s degree to reach their long-term career goals, but right now they demand a certificate that will give them the leverage to negotiate a raise.

Demand exists at the intersection of need, motivation, and finances. It appears when a person needs to learn, is motivated to do so, and has the means to achieve their goal.

Demand analysis seeks out real students and those who are actively looking to enroll. Their primary testimony helps you find hard answers to hard questions. Because you’re talking directly to students or those who plan to enroll in the near future, the information you uncover is more accurate and actionable.

You can ask questions like:

  • What were the most important factors in your enrollment decision?
  • How many institutions did you apply to before enrolling?
  • What were the top two reasons you chose not to enroll?

If you want to uncover the reasons why someone enrolls or the triggers that move them to act, demand analysis is the right tool for the job.

What to do with the Data You Collect

Needs assessment and demand analysis are just ways of collecting information. When you combine that research with data from other sources, you get a robust picture of who your students are, what they want, and what they need. You can use the information from your needs assessment to make decisions around potential solutions to the identified barriers to learning. Likewise, the results from your demand analysis can help you make decisions around customized messaging and marketing strategies to move more students through the enrollment lifecycle.

The way you define your sample population, or formulate a question, can impact the quality of your final data. For best results, partner with market research experts who know the higher education industry. At EducationDynamics, our team of higher ed market research experts gather, interpret, and use data to help you make more informed decisions. Contact us when you are ready to better understand the demands and preferences of today’s adult and online students.