How Higher Education Can Use Data Analytics to Address Declining Enrollments

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In this special guest feature, Eric Spear, Founder and President of Precision Campus, discusses how colleges and universities are trying to come up with a strategy to combat declining enrollments. Precision Campus is a data analytics software program designed exclusively for higher education. Eric has more than 20 years of data warehouse development experience and has performed all related duties including database management, user requirements gathering, coding, training and data administration.

Enrollments have been on a straight decline at colleges and universities across the U.S. for six straight years now. The reasoning for this varies by location and demographics, but competition from for-profit schools and career-focused programs is a notable contributing factor. In fact, enrollment decline has become such a major issue that two private colleges in the San Francisco area recently announced they are closing, laying off over 200 faculty and staff members.

An institution’s enrollment numbers are the telltale sign of whether or not it is successful. This is especially important since public colleges receive funding from their state based on these numbers. And even when enrollments aren’t declining, institutions are always looking at ways to better meet the needs of their students.

With deans, presidents, provosts and other higher education officials losing sleep over enrollment concerns, how are colleges and universities supposed to come up with a strategy to combat declining enrollments? The answer lies in using existing data to discover new insights.

Leveraging Enrollment Data

Fortunately, every institution keeps a plethora of data at their disposal. Everything from student demographics to course success rates is stored for reference. Particularly, enrollment numbers have the power to help create strategies that address declining enrollments. While data won’t exactly give away the answers, it provides the context that’s necessary for institutions to begin internal discussions and work toward solutions.

Enrollment data can be used term-to-term, year-to-year or over the course of several years to identify key trends that are affecting the student population. Is it common for dropouts to peak right before the withdrawal deadline? This could be caused by a number of reasons, like students just testing out a course, not being prepared for the online learning environment or financial concerns. Once an institution is able to identify patterns, it’s much easier to take steps and develop strategies to improve.

Using Data at All Levels

It’s also important to measure enrollment data at both a high level and granular level. An overall student census will tell you one thing, while the population of certain departments, majors, classes and other variables will tell you another.

This data has the power to help institutions see areas of opportunity more clearly. What is the demand for English prerequisite classes? Is there a low supply, which leads to students taking a semester off or dropping out altogether? Quick, easy access to this data can help higher education take action and work on strategies to either solve inefficiencies or maintain success.

Here’s another example: Many community colleges are seeing enrollments decline because there are limited options available for online programs. Since community colleges cater to adult students looking to balance work, family and their education, adding more online programs in areas where this is demand can possibly help boost enrollments.

It’s hard for schools to figure out where they’re going if they don’t know where they’ve come from. Since the higher education landscape is changing, colleges and universities need to implement a strategic plan when it comes to using data to their advantage. Whether this plan includes a higher education analytics software program or an internal data management process, using existing information to make data-driven decisions can help institutions easily analyze trends and identify opportunities for improvement.


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