The advent of advanced data analysis, business intelligence, visualization, and reporting tools has given institutions new opportunities to attract their best-fit students and drive success. While the definition of “data analytics” can be broad, especially within the higher education industry, innovative solutions that incorporate academic program economics and evaluation models invite faculty, administrators, and executives to use data to improve student engagement and enrollment strategies in an otherwise unpredictable market.
Let’s look at the business-to-consumer (B2C) sector. As consumers become more tech-savvy and digital, B2C enterprises must constantly assess their products and identify room for improvement in order to remain relevant, improve the bottom line, generate new revenue, and attract new customers. This theory translates well when looking at the higher education industry, which, generally, also caters to consumers. Institutions must regularly look at their academic offerings and determine if their current portfolio of offerings supports their enrollment, retention, and advancement goals.
The challenge for higher education institutions is finding a way to strengthen their academic program portfolio and make it more attractive amid financial challenges (decreased external funding, rising costs, etc.) and market challenges (changing student demographics, evolving student learning expectations, etc.). Because every institution is different—both in terms of which types of students are being targeted for recruitment as well as what types of academic programs are being offered—decision-makers need to aggregate data relevant to their organization, understand it, and apply findings to their own unique strategy.
When institutions evaluate and potentially restructure their academic program strategy, they can take a more targeted approach to student enrollment by recruiting students who are more likely to succeed in those tracks. In general, there are three overarching areas that institutions should assess when evaluating their academic program portfolio: contribution margin, demand, and mission alignments.1. Contribution Margin
On the financial side, institutions need to look at their academic program portfolio’s contribution margin to identify room for improvement. There are many variables that can contribute to this data, including different tuition prices between students due to scholarships, location, grants, etc. Likewise, some programs inherently cost more to run than others, such as technical programs with expensive labs and training requirements. Because institutions have limited resources, decision-makers need to ensure those assets are allocated appropriately.2. Program Demand
Institutions also need to determine the actual demand for an academic program. Doing so can require decision-makers to look at data from sources like the Integrated Postsecondary Education System (IPEDS), the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Additionally, institutions can look at search traffic for specific keywords associated with academic programs on either Google or on their own website.3. Mission Alignment
Fundamentally, an academic program needs to align with an institution’s mission. It’s important that organizations remain focused on their core objectives and not reach beyond their scope, as doing so can introduce substantial issues.
Attracting and recruiting best-fit students means taking a targeted approach. When institutions build, maintain, expand, or enhance their academic program portfolio according to their specific objectives, they can develop enrollment strategies that hit goals and strengthen retention rates, opening opportunities for long-term institutional and student success.
Data analytics is a broad-sweeping technology term that can be applied in many ways across higher education campuses. By applying new business intelligence, reporting, and visualization tools to their academic program portfolio so they can see which courses work and which areas need improvement, institutions will be better prepared to succeed in an otherwise unpredictable and complex market.
Be sure to download our recent ebook, “A Guide to Program Analytics,” to learn more about what goes into the framework for building an analytics-based academic program strategy.
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