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Archive for the ‘Higher Education Trends’ Category

For this second installment in the higher education trends series, we revisited industry trends to determine client priorities for the remainder of 2016.  We’ve noticed interest among our higher education clients in digital investments, predictive analytics, stackable certificates, and prioritizing student retention. Through our research and interactions with clients, we’ve compiled a list of trends that we believe will be integral to the industry for the rest of the year. The first installment in the higher education trends series can be found here.

  1. Investment in Digital Initiatives

Website: Institution’s are becoming more cognizant of the role that the college website plays in the brand’s image. As a result, we’ve noticed an increasing focus on website personalization and optimization.  Websites that provide the visitor with a personalized experienced are building a visitor profile. Each time that visitor returns to the website, the content becomes more targeted based on their browsing history. Once an action is taken (e.g., downloading an application, making an inquiry, scheduling a campus visit, etc.), all previously anonymous data can be tied to the University’s CRM system and used by various teams (e.g., enrollment, financial aid, alumni affairs, etc.). Through tele-depth interviews to test website usability, institutions are able to determine how to best optimize its website experience and where there are areas of opportunities for personalization.

Mobile: Mobile-friendly marketing strategies are not a new topic for many higher education institutions, but enhanced rigor is being placed around ensuring the college’s website is mobile-friendly, and online courses can be accessed across multiple platforms (e.g., mobile, tablet, laptop, etc.). Essentially, mobile-friendly content boils down to three principles: – it must be easy to navigate, with fast download times, and provide a rewarding experience. Moreover, the information being sought should be available, such as a program brochure. Similar to the section above, tele-depth interviews can test mobile strategies to ensure the user experience is satisfactory across mobile applications.

Social Media: Many higher education institutions have been engaging with their stakeholders through social media for many years, but we’re noticing that more colleges are using social media as a recruitment tool. Admissions departments are using the readily available and seemingly endless number of social media platforms to research prospective students, and influence admissions decisions. To ensure that the institution is utilizing the social media platforms that resonate most with their target audiences, a prospective learner survey can be used to determine social media platform preferences and how they would like the institution to interact with them on each.

  1. Predictive Analytics

Institutions are under growing pressure to prove its value as it pertains to student success during college and after graduation. To do so, administrators are tapping into big data to develop predictive tools, allowing faculty and staff to help students showing signs of poor outcomes. An issue that many institutions grapple with is how to get the multitude of systems utilized within the college to talk to each other (e.g., getting data from Blackboard talk to a CRM program used by a different department). The industry has made strides to overcome this issue by adopting the Caliper Analyltics Interoperability Standard. The standard is a set of common definitions for what constitutes learning activity data, and how it is communicated back to institutions. Essentially that means that institutions who are concerned about having easy access to data across programs  are going to want its in-house data platforms to abide by the standards; in turn ensuring that its institutional data can be accessed  with other internal platforms. By having data accessible across programs, institutions can empower students, teachers, staff, and administrators with data that influences the learning process and identifies learning weaknesses.

  1. Stackable Certificates

As alternative learning methods are becoming more popular, stackable certificates options are more prevalent. Stackable certificates allow students to receive credit for professional experience as it relates to their program of study. In some cases, these credits qualify them for certification or advanced credentials.  The benefit to students is that is saves them time and money when completing a degree or certificate. The benefit to the institution is the ability to entice potentially new demographics (i.e., professionals and employers). Prospective students with professional experience may want to go back to college to obtain a degree or certificate in their field, but have previously been deterred by the need to take courses they could otherwise place out of if given the option. With the availability of stackable certificates, employers have access to an affordable option for keeping staff updated on cutting edge industry changes.

  1. Prioritizing Student Retention

It’s clear that student retention impacts the perceived quality of an institution. To reduce student attrition, institutions are investing more in understanding the reasons students leave the college and developing strategies to keep them engaged and enrolled. Tinto’s Model of Student Retention was developed in 1975 by Vincent Tinto and is still widely accepted. The model suggests that “a student’s likelihood of graduating is directly correlated with the degree to which the student is academically and socially integrated into the institution.” A 2015 retention benchmark poll for higher education institutions supported the model, recommending that student learning and campus integration must be a priority to promote retention. To do so, institutions are implementing retention strategies such as: academic support programs, honors programs, practical work experiences, first-year student programs, and one-on-one advising sessions as part of the mandatory curriculum. For online learners, institutions are making online faculty training and academic advising mandatory. To take a step further, institutions are also conducting satisfaction research with current and former students to determine reasons (and potential reasons) for attrition and identify areas of opportunity.

Stay tuned for updated higher education trends throughout the year! Research & Marketing Strategies, Inc. (RMS) is a market research firm located in Syracuse, NY. If you are interested in learning more about our higher education market research services, please contact the Senior Director of Business Development & Corporate Strategy, Sandy Baker at SandyB@RMSresults.com  or by calling 1-866-567-5422.

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blog-2016-education-trends

Now that we’re settling into the first quarter of 2016, we are setting our sights on identifying industry trends to determine client priorities for the year ahead.  In working with our growing roster of higher education clients, our team has noticed a shift in the education landscape towards revitalization and streamlining strategies to accommodate the changing needs of stakeholders. Through our research and interactions with clients, we’ve compiled a list of trends that we believe will be part of the higher education space going forward in 2016.

  1. Revisiting Recruitment Strategies

Marketing Mix: It’s no secret that today’s students are immersed in a digital lifestyle. That has led many institutions to investigate or implement digital strategies aimed at attracting and retaining top-notch students. Ruffalo Noel Levitz conducted a poll in 2015 to determine the communication preferences of high school students and parents with institutions. Interestingly, they noticed a preferential shift towards direct mail by college students compared to 2011. This finding led them to conclude that institutions should develop and deploy a mix of recruitment strategies – digital and print. Noel Levitz suggests that students may prefer to receive college information via direct mail, but they are unlikely to respond through the same medium. Instead, the goal should be to entice the prospective student to visit the college website for further information. It will be important for institutions to examine their current suite of marketing strategies to ensure they align with the expectations of their target student audience.

Adult Learners: Where we’ve seen the most interest from our higher education clients in 2015 is in identifying how best to reach the adult learner population within their geographical recruitment footprint. High school graduates are no longer the staple for all institutions. Instead, they’re expanding their portfolio to include non-traditional and adult learners to capture those interested in beginning their college career at a later age, or advancing a skill set. Continuing education and personal enrichment courses are of particular interest for community colleges, where prospective learners are already accustomed to a more flexible atmosphere including part-time study and evening course options. Institutions are exploring the preferences of this growing segment of the population, and investing in curriculum that will meet their needs.

International Student Recruitment: There has been a lot of buzz over the last couple years about a spike in international student recruitment. Given that it’s become the norm for most colleges to be operating under financial burdens, it’s no surprise that that they would invest in targeted recruitment of individuals who bring more revenue to the institution. The uptick in international student recruitment has led to more benefits than simple financial gain for many colleges. A 2015 report produced by The Lawlor Group notes that international students also boost cultural campus diversity, while also bringing a more personal “global perspective” into the classroom. In their 2015 report, Hanover Research points out that institutions are now turning to specialized companies such as Pearson, which offers a “Progression+” college informational service, to assist in the targeted recruitment of international students. While the concept is intriguing, it’s certainly not appropriate for all institutions. It is essential to consider whether an increase in international student recruitment is appropriate for your college. To attract top-quality students, institutions now need to offer desirable financial aid packages (which was not the standard even a few years ago), invest in a digital presence, and attend appropriate higher education conferences (some of which require travel abroad).

  1. Competition from Alternative Education Programs

Alternative learning methods such as MOOCs have been in effect for many years, although opinion varies on their effectiveness and impact on traditional bricks-and-mortar higher education institutions. Newer alternative learning entrants to the market include mini bootcamp and nanodegree style learning opportunities. With the technology boom still in full swing, these alternative education methods are becoming increasingly popular and available. Many careers in technology are listed as high-need, high-wage, and high-skill, but there is a lack of qualified individuals in the workforce to fill the needs of employers, making these options attractive to both employers and individuals looking to break into a booming workforce or improve their competitive stance in the marketplace. These programs offer students the benefit of flexibility (often fully online at their own pace), they can be completed in shorter time frames than a traditional college education, and are often much more affordable. A great example is Udacity’s availability of several nanodegree programs which can be completed in about a year and cost $200 per month, with a promise to get half your tuition back if you complete the program in 12 months or less. The emergence of these options is certainly something that higher education administration is already keeping a close eye on. Over the last year, RMS has also seen a growing interest in higher education feasibility studies regarding online program options. Institutions are realizing that to stay competitive, they may need to refresh their current suite of academic offerings to better align with the evolving needs of the education consumer.

  1. Competency-Based Education

The streamlined approach to higher education has taken further shape in recent years through the growth in competency-based education (CBE) programs. CBE programs measure a student’s progress based on how well they learn the material rather than the length of time to complete a degree. In a traditional program, a student typically must complete a minimum number of academic credits, regardless of how well they already know the material. CBE programs allow students to learn at their own pace, and demonstrate via learning mastery.  A research brief published by Public Agenda in late 2015 revealed the results of the largest survey effort on the topic of CBE programs, including baseline CBE adoption data by participating institutions, program design and implementation data, opportunities, and barriers experienced by respondent institutions. The brief disclosed that nearly 600 institutions offer CBE programs, with public institutions leading the way. Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees are the most popular credentials earned by graduates of CBE programs at institutions who have a fully active program(s) or are scaling up CBE efforts. However, the majority (64%) of responding institutions are in the planning phase of CBE adoption while only 14% have implemented a CBE program. It’s clear that administrators view CBE programs as the future and it will be interesting to see if the concept evolves to become the norm in higher education learning.

  1. Automating Marketing Efforts

With the continual expansion of digital channels available, higher education institutions have to balance a multitude of marketing efforts to reach their target audiences. Many institutions have to balance social media marketing, email, a website, and content marketing while finding a way to integrate all of the data that allows them to gain meaningful insights which shed light on how best to connect with current students, prospective students, alumni, and other stakeholders. This has led to an increase in the popularity of marketing automation solutions. Marketing automation tools synthesize an institution’s marketing efforts to allow for in-depth marketing campaign analysis, tracking of campaign analytics and ROI calculations, among a myriad of other efforts. Institutions that use these automation tools have the ability to enact more personalized communication efforts, which is thought to resonate well with both traditional and non-traditional students by making them feel connected to their campus. Since marketing automation is still yet to be standard on college campuses, adoption of these tools would provide an institution with a competitive edge.

This is the first in our series of higher education trends, so stay tuned for updated trends throughout the year! Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) is a market research firm located in Syracuse, NY. If you are interested in learning more about our higher education market research services, please contact the Senior Director of Business Development & Corporate Strategy, Sandy Baker at SandyB@RMSresults.com  or by calling 1-866-567-5422.

Sources:

“2015 High School Students’ and Parents’ Perceptions of and Preferences for Communication with Colleges.” Ruffalo Noel Levitz, 2015. https://www.ruffalonl.com/documents/gated/Papers_and_Research/2015/2015_Perceptions_Preferences_Report.pdf?code=3913351183201512

“A Research Brief on the Survey of the Shared Design Elements & Emerging Practices of Competency-Based Education Programs.” Public Agenda, December 2015. http://www.publicagenda.org/files/SurveyOfSharedDesignElementsAndEmergingPracticesOfCBEPrograms_PublicAgenda_2015.pdf

“2016 Trends in Higher Education Marketing, Enrollment, and Technology.” Hanover Research, November 2015.

Buege, V. “International Recruitment: Today’s Issues and Opportunities.” The Lawlor Group, April 2015. http://www.thelawlorgroup.com/international-recruitment-todays-issues-and-opportunities/

Duncan, Scott. “Marketing Technology Adoption in Higher Ed: From CRM to Marketing Automation.” Higher Education Marketing, November 5, 2014. http://www.higher-education-marketing.com/blog/education-marketing-blog/marketing-technology-higher-ed-crm-marketing-automation

Mathewson, Tara G. “5 Higher Ed Trends to Watch in 2016.” Education Dive, December 30, 2015. http://www.educationdive.com/news/5-higher-ed-trends-to-watch-in-2016/411362/

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higher ed brand awareness

It’s that time of year again, students and professors are getting settled in to a new semester of college, and administrators are coming up with solutions to help their institution stay ahead of the competitive curve. Standing out among the crowd is a constant struggle for many institutions that are grappling with recent trends – the pros and cons of going test-optional, and a rise in the number of private colleges and universities raising the discount rates on their tuition come to mind first.  Today’s students (and their parents) are invested in searching for the best education at the most affordable cost, causing institutions to go back to the drawing board to revisit their branding and determine their place in the marketplace.

If your institution is revisiting brand awareness and competitive positioning, consider investigating the following:

  • How does the institution’s current branding resonate with key stakeholder groups (current/prospective students, alumni, faculty/staff, donors, local employers, and the general community)?
  • What sets your institution apart from your competition?
  • What is your institution known for? What branding opportunities can the institution capitalize on?
  • What makes prospective students consider your institution? What leads students to enroll?

To answer those questions, we’ve found a couple research options to be particularly effective. Online survey(s) with current and prospective students, alumni, and faculty/staff provide quantitative insight into the perception and awareness of the institution’s brand. In-depth interviews with local high school staff, employers, and economic leaders provide in-depth qualitative insight into brand awareness. A competitive analysis can reveal competing institutions and uncover areas of opportunity for new program offerings or educational partnerships to reduce operational costs.

Using the results of the study is where the real magic happens. Findings can drive refreshed marketing campaigns, allowing the university to better connect with untapped marketplace potential, and reinforce current relationships. With an enhanced understanding of opportunity, the institution can rejuvenate strategic planning efforts and enact a long-term plan for providing academic excellence.

Is your institution interested in conducting a branding study or competitive analysis? RMS has all the tools and resources to determine the brand awareness and marketplace positioning of your college or university. If you’re interested in learning more about our higher education services, please contact our Sr. Director of Business Development & Corporate Strategy, Sandy Baker at SandyB@RMSresults.com or by calling 1-866-567-5422.

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student satisfaction research

Attrition is a growing concern among higher education institutions. Students are no longer starting and completing their college education at one institution, and competition is on the rise to keep them engaged.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 33% of first-time college freshmen will not return to the same institution for the following academic year.1  Even fewer complete a program after six years at private for-profit schools, where 68% drop out. The outlook is not as grim at nonprofit private schools and public colleges, where 33% and 43% fail to graduate after six years, respectively. Interestingly, institutions that are more selective in their admissions process (those with the lowest admissions rates) experience higher graduation rates (33%), on average, than those who have open admissions policies (86%).2 So what influences these high attrition rates? Many factors, including customer service, finances, scheduling options, personal reasons, and perceived value of education may be playing a role. The cost to retain a student is much lower than the cost to recruit a replacement, so it’s important for an institution to pinpoint the issues affecting their campus, and create strategies to increase retention rates.

Here are some options for gauging student satisfaction with an institution.

  • Quick Pulse Telephone Surveying

A quick pulse telephone survey is a short (10-15 question) survey that offers the fastest turnaround time from start to finish. This type of study is often completed in about a week, and results in a report that can include: results that are representative of the student population, overall student satisfaction with your institution to create a benchmark for ongoing research, opportunities for your institution to effectively meet the needs of students, an estimated return rate of students (overall, and by class), and an assessment of the effectiveness of seminar and acclimation programs. More information on the quick pulse telephone survey process can be found here.

  • Student Satisfaction Online Survey

Conducting an online survey is a cost-effective option for examining student satisfaction. This method is frequently used to ascertain the factors affecting the retention rate among current students. Prospective students (including those who made an inquiry but failed to enroll) and alumni can be included in the research to provide a holistic review of the student experience. Online surveys often include approximate 20 questions and last less than 10 minutes. This methodology provides administration with a detailed report of the findings which can be disseminated to faculty and staff as the institution sees fit.

  • Mystery Shopping

Through mystery shopping, researchers can gain a full-circle look at the student’s experience at an institution. From the initial campus inquiry to the application and enrollment process and beyond, researchers can utilize in-person visits, phone, and online touch points to evaluate all aspects of a student’s academic experience. This “boots on the ground” approach can provide an institution with an inside view that would be hard to obtain through other methods. Research can be customized to include an evaluation of as many, or as few, touch points that the institution would like to investigate.

Are your students happy? RMS has all the tools and resources to conduct your student satisfaction research. Studies conducted by a third-party yield more honest and accurate responses from students when compared with those administered by the institution. If you’re interested in learning more about student satisfaction research, please contact our Sr. Director of Business Development & Corporate Strategy, Sandy Baker at SandyB@RMSresults.com or by calling 1-866-567-5422.

  1. http://www.higheredinfo.org/dbrowser/index.php?measure=92
  2. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=40

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boom in online education

Post-secondary online academic offerings are certainly not a new concept. The topic has, however, crossed our radar more frequently over the last year than in the past. With college enrollment numbers on the decline, administrators are angling for ways to combat rising costs and garner renewed interest among prospective populations. It’s no secret that the higher education space is shifting. Millennials are staying in college longer to increase their competitiveness in the marketplace, and they’ve been leaders in the shift towards online learning. As Generation Z moves through the post-secondary pipeline, digital learning is expected to be the norm. The mix of recent high school graduates and mid-career professionals that have a thorough understanding of technology, but varied academic needs occupying the same institutional space will stack the deck in favor of online program offerings. As colleges and universities begin to explore this opportunity, we’re seeing heightened interest in investigating the long-term viability of online programs.

Recently, our clients have expressed an interest in the following with relation to online programs:

  • The feasibility of offering current academic programs in a fully online or hybrid format
  • Satellite location feasibility for hybrid offerings
  • New program feasibility of an online-only program
  • Enrollment projection
  • Research with individuals who inquired, but failed to enroll in the institution

The assist our clients with this research, we’ve taken several approaches.

  • We’re conducting more program feasibility studies than ever before. RMS is talking to local employers, prospective students, and workforce development personnel about academic preferences and current labor market needs, and we’re reviewing labor data to uncover projections about future need.
  • Our clients are eager to locate affordable satellite locations for hybrid programs, and identify potential partnership opportunities with local businesses to reduce operating costs. Our team of experienced researchers is identifying potential locations, considering factors such as cost, occupancy rate, and availability (among others).
  • Interest in enrollment projections is also on the rise. Institutions want to know more than a level of interest among the target audience. They want to see a projection of future enrollment to provide a deeper understand of long-term viability.
  • More institutions are investing in research to understand the motivations behind the individuals who made an inquiry with the college but ultimately did not enroll in a course or program. Leveraging this pocket of the market allows institutions to convert those who have not yet enrolled elsewhere, or are dissatisfied with their experience at a competitor institution.

Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) is a market research firm located in Syracuse, NY. If you are interested in learning more about our higher education market research services, please contact the Senior Director of Business Development & Corporate Strategy, Sandy Baker at SandyB@RMSresults.com or by calling 1-866-567-5422.

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empty classroom

This blog post provides an updated look on a previous blog post stating how market research can help address higher education enrollment challenges. Institutions are still trudging through slower growth in enrollment than they have experienced in the past. As projected in the previous blog post, the National Center for Education Statistics has again reported the number of high school graduates to be on the decline, with 24 states and the District of Columbia expected to produce five percent or more fewer graduates in 2022-23 than in 2009-10. The Northeast can again expect the sharpest decline, where high schools are projected to produce 10% fewer graduates by 2023.

Fewer high school graduates directly influences the dip in projected enrollment in postsecondary institutions. While overall enrollment is projected to increase by 2022, the percent increase is projected to drop dramatically, from a 45% increase between 1997-2011 to a 14% increase between 2011-2022. Through conversations with clients and colleagues, it’s clear that institutions are aware that actionable insights will be needed to tread the waters. While the approach will vary across institutions, we’ve included some recommendations below for consideration in tackling enrollment challenges.

  1. Tap into Uncharted Territory

Through the projects that we’ve completed for higher education clients, RMS has seen online learning continue to gain in popularity among students and institutions alike. As mentioned in a recent blog post, online learning platforms are expected to become more customizable, providing immediate feedback on performance and tutoring, and ultimately leading to faster degree completion and enhanced academic relationships with professors. This has led to a surge in institutions demonstrating an interest in finding ways to upgrade or offer online educational options.  A survey, in-depth interviews, or focus groups with current and prospective students are valuable tools to find out if online academic offerings is an uncharted territory worth pursuing.

  1. Understand and Recruit from the Changing Demographic Pool

The traditional college student is a shrinking demographic. Institutions saw a 49% increase in enrolled students between 18 and 24 years old from 1997-2011, but that increase is projected to decline to 9% from 2011-2022. In fact, post-secondary students 35 years or older are expected to command the largest enrollment increase during the same time frame (23%), while a 20% increase in enrollment of those between 25 and 34 years old is anticipated. This continual shift in demographics among college students is a trend that will force institutions to re-tool their marketing and recruiting efforts. Adult learners will require different student services and financial needs than their younger counterparts. Commitments outside of the classroom will also vary. There are many paths that institutions may take to determine the appropriate strategy for reaching these populations. It will be important to gauge interest in the college’s current suite of academic offerings, figure out if there are programs you should be offering to capitalize on untapped adult student populations, and match that with the labor market demand for those occupations to drive marketing efforts.  Program feasibility studies  will become vital components of an institution’s effort to answer these questions. Student services and financial needs can be measured through focus groups, surveys, or through a competitive analysis of the institution’s top competitors.

  1. Revitalize Retention Efforts

Retention is critical to higher education institutions, and for good reason. Retention is influenced by initial college impressions such as admissions procedures and policies, but includes many post-admission factors such as academic advising, financial aid, student activities, and residence services. There are several ways to determine which factors are weighing most heavily on retention.  An institution can pinpoint their areas of opportunity by measuring current student satisfaction and comparing it to data gathered from individuals who inquired about the institution but did not apply or enroll. This will reveal where current students feel the college may be falling short and allow the institution to make improvements in an effort to reduce the likelihood of the student body seeking other academic options. It will allow the college to identify gaps in current processes or services that is leading to missed opportunity at the initial admissions phase. Focus groups, satisfaction surveys, and student services assessments are great options to answer these questions.

Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) is a market research firm located in Syracuse, NY. If you are interested in learning more about our higher education market research services, please contact the Senior Director of Business Development & Corporate Strategy, Sandy Baker at SandyB@RMSresults.com or by calling 1-866-567-5422.

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