Magazine article University Business

The DATA PITCH: Playing with Big-League Data to Approach and Attract Students

Magazine article University Business

The DATA PITCH: Playing with Big-League Data to Approach and Attract Students

Article excerpt

College admissions teams now go beyond zip codes and SAT scores to micromatch students who are most likely to apply to, enroll in and succeed at their institutions. In this new era, administrators consider everything from a student's interests and non-school activities to what they like on Facebook and how long they spent on the institution's website.

"It's safe to say college admissions offices have been steeped in this pursuit of better leads and more refined recruitment tactics, and in the use of big data to adapt to changing realities," says David Hawkins, executive director for educational content and policy at the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). Those changes are impacting both marketing overall and the more specific world of students' college searches.

What's evolved in the last couple of years is the availability of complex software platforms that can do the tough data analysis work--crunching it down into meaningful, digestible insights. In addition, there's now "an industry of marketing and communications firms that work hand in glove with colleges to plan and implement their strategies," says Hawkins.

With technology serving up the exact data models colleges request, recruitment and admissions professionals can embrace a strategy that is similar to how baseball teams analyze player statistics to put together the perfect team. "It's about using the data to help shape a freshman class that's going to graduate," says Brian G. Williams, vice president for enrollment management and marketing at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island.

Here are some ways data is reshaping admissions and recruitment strategy on campuses today:

Pre-season recruitment:

Identifying new geographic target areas

Administrators are getting better at determining which data streams can help them make future-facing strategic decisions, says Tristan Denley, chief academic officer and executive vice chancellor of academic affairs for the University System of Georgia.

For example, the system recently introduced a Zillow-like, geocoded interface that lets 28 individual institutions examine the map of Georgia high schools--allowing recruiters to zero in on students who weren't previously on their radar and plan visits to those schools or perform some other direct outreach. This tool allows a new, data-informed approach to finding new pockets of students. "It's natural to target places where you've been successful in the past, and it's hard to look elsewhere because you are just rolling the dice," says Denley.

In St. Augustine, Florida, Flagler College's data analytics did the opposite--revealing a potential geographic danger zone. "We found that students from a fairly close geographic area just weren't retaining well," says Joseph Provenza, vice president for technology services and chief information officer.

Specifically, students who lived within driving distance of campus (but not super close) were most at risk for dropping out. The reason, Flagler's administrators surmised, is that those who could go home on a whim were not blending into the campus community, and as a result, were disengaging.

The college is considering a few responses, says Provenza. One is to rethink where recruitment resources are spent. In the meantime, the student life team is looking at strategies for enticing students from this high-risk group to get more involved.

Application and admissions season: Tracking intent by interactions

Data can take the guesswork out of whether admitted students will choose an institution, says Hawkins of NACAC.

"The more we know about students at the point of application, the better we can predict if they are going to come here or not," says Mark Hampton, vice president for enrollment and enterprise analytics at New York Institute of Technology.

The university tracks all sorts of interaction with prospective students in its TargetX CRM system, using that data to focus recruitment efforts and build engagement. …

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