Better Data, Better Outcomes

Using analytics to improve the student experience. 

Better Data, Better Outcomes

COLLEGES USUALLY RELY on marketing, alumni networks, and positive word-of-mouth to attract new students, but what if predictive analytics could do a better job of creating the perfect match between students and universities? And what if advanced analytics could help schools develop better processes for increasing enrollment, reducing attrition, and improving job prospects for graduates?

These questions were considered in October at the inaugural Advanced Data Analytics Summit hosted by the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania and Othot, a Pittsburgh-based provider of advanced analytics for higher education. During the two-day summit, representatives from U.S. universities shared how they are using advanced analytics to grow their enrollment, maximize tuition revenue, and improve overall performance.

Keynote speaker Jaime Casap, education evangelist at Google, discussed the factors that Generation Z will bring to the education equation in the future. Specifically, he noted that members of Generation Z are willing to give information about themselves as long as an experience is meeting their expectations. He added that schools can use analytics to create the educational programs that these students are seeking. Other education and technology experts offered their own insights, which resulted in four key takeaways:

1. Most schools are paying attention to the aggregate, when they need to focus on the individual. Students don’t decide to attend colleges in cohorts of 4,000; they decide one by one. To increase conversion rates, colleges have to ask the right questions; then they can let data indicate the right tactics that human admissions officers can use, such as telecounseling, to engage with individual students.

2. Schools are losing students they shouldn’t be losing. Even before they step on campus, students send myriad behavioral signals that let colleges know they might not stay. Schools need to pay attention and respond proactively, or those students will be gone by midterms. John P. Campbell, vice provost of West Virginia University in Morgantown, said, “The goal should be to identify early signs that can enable early interventions, so that you can re-recruit your freshmen to become sophomores.”

3. Advanced analytics can help create a more meaningful definition of student success. Schools can’t merely consider graduation rates; they must focus on the entire lifecycle, from admissions to retention to graduation to post-graduation success. A whole host of factors influence why students choose schools and complete degrees, and universities must support students holistically, not just academically. For instance, the smartest student won’t graduate if she can’t pay tuition, so schools must understand and respond to each student’s financial situation.

Advanced analytics allow schools to ensure that students are in the programs that suit them best and that they are receiving the support that will help them through academic, financial, and personal difficulties. As Marc Harding, vice provost for enrollment at the University of Pittsburgh, pointed out, “Analytics is the art and the science of acting in the right moment” in ways that nudge students toward desired outcomes and away from negative ones.

4. Data alone won’t drive the change. The people using the data influence the outcomes at every stage, from admissions through graduation. According to Jamie Hansard, executive director of undergraduate admissions at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, “Data-driven decision making is about empowerment. What does the data tell you?”

One final insight came from Andy Hannah, CEO of Othot. He is also an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship and analytics and an entrepreneur-in-residence at the University of Pittsburgh. He noted that data will be valuable only if leaders can utilize the insights to improve outcomes—for students as well as schools.