How Universities Target Potential Students Using Data Analytics

Student analytics help universities target the best students possible

Data analytics have helped businesses improve hiring practices and the bottom line, while sports teams are competing at a higher level thanks to data science.

Now, it’s helping colleges find students through what we can effectively dub “student analytics.”

As with other industries, Big Data and predictive analytics have steamrolled longstanding assumptions about how to find potential students for universities and how to keep them in school once they enroll.

Schools use tried-and-true methods such as purchasing names of potential – and typically high-achieving – students from the College Board and the ACT. But advancements in technology have opened the door to a more targeted way to do business.

Part of the reason behind the push is a needed improvement in yield rates – the percentage of admitted students who actually attend. That number has been in “free fall at all but the most elite institutions,” according to The Atlantic.

That means less money for schools. College recruiters face more pressure than ever to get students enrolled and actually attending college.

Student Recruitment

Nothing has changed in terms of academic bars a student has to clear to get into school. But with thousands of students academically eligible to attend colleges, the decision for the school is now more about which students to pursue.

And that can come down to this question: “Which student is the most likely to actually enroll?”

That not only improves the yield rate, but also saves time and money spent on pursuing a student who likely would never attend, anyway.

But how can they tell which students are most likely to attend? The answer is predictive analytics applied to data collected from the student’s activities. That includes online searches for schools and filling out applications. It can also include social media interaction and campus visits.

It used to include how students rank schools on their initial federal student aid application, but the federal government has taken steps to prevent schools from seeing this information.

That’s just some of the data collected. All of it is compiled by the school (or consultants they have hired) in a file on the student. Then, based on data collected on thousands of prospective students in the past, the data can be crunched to determine which student is behaving in such a way that is most likely to result in enrollment.

Different schools collect different data and the interpretation methods vary, but the bottom line is they are refining the student analytics process. Some have even hired consultants to help them find students who are most likely able to pay for their full tuition or have means of payment that won’t require the school to discount prices, according to Inside Higher Education.

Retaining Students

Another big issue facing colleges is student retention. Student retention is always an issue, even during the first year, as the falling yield rate shows. Students dropping out not only leaves the student with a student debt burden, but also leaves the school with a hole to fill.

Schools now have fashioned data analysis programs to ascertain which students are exhibiting behavior that most likely leads to success. Wichita State University, for example, used an IBM-authored program to predict the success rate of incoming students.

According to IBM, the system had a 96% percent success rate in identifying “high yield” students – those who would enroll, attend and graduate.

In some cases, schools may use data about a prospective student’s demographic information. That includes where they were born, where they went to high school and also economic status. This information can be an “X-factor” in managing student enrollment, according to Business Insider.

The use of student’s personal information has led to the specter of potential lawsuits, particularly if there is any indication that race or ethnicity plays a factor in ranking students.

However, colleges are expected to continue refining their admissions process through the use of student analytics. They are attempting to control a balancing act – offering education to a diverse number of students, provide top-flight education and also stay financially viable.


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