Big data in Higher Ed: Enrollment, Marketing & Student Success

In higher education, we have tons of data about our students, prospects and student success right in front of our eyes. If using an inbound marketing platform, you probably know more about your students & prospects than you’d really like to know! The problem, it seems, is tying all of this information together to make a complete profile of our students and prospects.

load-of-dataIn utopia, what would a perfect student or prospective student profile include (this is seriously a question)??

Most of the time we don’t know much about our prospects until we ask explicitly, whether it be information on a form submission for a download, a request for information, or a recruiter talking to someone at a recruiting event and hand entering info. On the web, it takes exceptional content and web navigation, but once we get to the asking part, most are interested enough to share a bit of information about themselves.

Once a prospect shares enough information to become a lead we know:

  • Demographics
  • Contact Information
  • Web downloads, web visit history, social media info
  • Program interests
  • Other stuff from your CRM

Ok, that’s a really good start. I may be missing some things, feel free to leave comments below!

For current students we have:

  • Demographic info
  • Test Scores
  • Majors
  • Grades – courses they’ve done well in and those they haven’t
  • Web Downloads, possibly web page visits and/or social media info
  • Usually a career center has information from different tests that suggest careers based on interests

Again, what am I missing? I’m sure I’ve left some things out, but those are things I can think of right off the top of my head.

If your college is like most, all of this information lives in a million different places, some of which are only available to certain departments. You have a major silo problem, that’s normal in higher ed, whether it’s data or something else. Usually, if you need information, you have to ask someone to pull it for you out of a system that you may or may not know the name of, you may or may not know exist, and/or systems that the college may have been using from the beginning of time.

data-quoteFor just a minute, consider how powerful all of this information could be to your recruiting efforts, marketing and student success. Where does all of this data live and what format is it in? What information would help boost enrollment, make the marketing department drool and HELP your students be successful (that’s why we’re here, right)? What are you missing that would be helpful? Think personas…think personalization (not only in marketing, but in their entire college experience)… What can you combine, from web analytics to grades, activities, etc. that would give you a clear picture of each student you serve?

Why does the thought of data warehousing scare the crap out of people?

Cost? Time? Manpower? The fact that there are very few, if any, higher ed specific services available to make this easier? It’s a daunting task, almost impossible for many people to wrap their heads around, but seriously, if you think the big money propritary schools aren’t doing this, you’re currently living in a continuous pipe dream. They have the cash, we don’t – we have to work smarter and a lot of times a lot harder!

I have seen a couple of interesting things that schools have done using the data they have, Austin Peay State University built a recommender system with a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant that recommends courses that a current student may be interested (and successful) in. The other is a community college system that created Sherpa, which incorporates some other types of communications to encourage student success and warns of students who need help.

However, it seems both of these projects have been going on for at least 5 years and I’m not able to find any evidence of real success or any sort of framework that they are using. Just as an advocate of open source for the greater good, I wonder if sharing the framework or code was part of the grants. In any case, these are the only 2 instances I am aware of that are putting their data to use in this way.

I’d love to know what other colleges are doing to bring all of their siloed data into one place. It’d make life so much easier and have ridiculous benefits for many departments and the college as a whole – predictive analytics, enrollment history, helping students reach their goals & many more! If your college has figured this out, from the hardware to the application layer, please comment on your successes below.

I have ideas, but they seem to be a building from the ground up approach and that would be insane to try to do in-house with the time it would take, available talent in the area for a team, and the cost. Who wants to reinvent the wheel if some of the work has been done?

Vendors – this isn’t the place to sell your product unless it would TRULY be a solution in the higher education setting.

I’m really looking forward to discussion!