New study reveals major opportunity for data-driven decision making about program development, marketing, enrollment, and retention services

According to new research published last week by Helix Education and UPCEA, 83% of higher education professionals have no knowledge of the cost-per-inquiry of their most effective marketing channel for undergraduate inquiry, and more than half made the same indication for graduate inquiry. Additionally, less than half of higher education professionals go through a formalized process when determining which new programs to develop. These insights come to light as part of new research recently published by Helix Education and UPCEA on the data-driven state of higher education decision making. Leading by Gut or by Data: The Data-Driven State of Higher Ed Decision Making reveals the extent to which institutions apply data across the student lifecycle, where data gaps exist, and how institutions are mitigating barriers to the data-driven mindset.

The research concludes that for a majority of education providers, data science and analytics are being underutilized when making decisions about program development, marketing, enrollment and retention services. Additionally, because data hasn’t been made enough of a priority, there are a significant number of institutional respondents (including those on the front lines of enrollment marketing and operations, retention operations, online program management, program development and data/analytics) who are in the dark when it comes to key metrics. A snapshot of  additional findings reveals:

  • Sixty-eight percent of respondents don’t know their estimated overall conversion rate from inquiry to enrollment.
  • Only 38% of respondents reported close integration between marketing, enrollment management, and advising teams.
  • Almost two-thirds (65%) of respondents stated that they either partner completely with outside vendors or blend their operations between in-house methods and outsourcing partnerships for their enrollment marketing

Also of note is the trend toward outsourcing in higher education. To help mitigate the challenges inherent in adopting a data-driven mindset, many higher education institutions are turning to outsourced partners to help them track key performance indicators and implement an integrated system for sharing information.

The goal of this research study, which surveyed 480 higher ed professionals, was to identify how the data-driven mindset is permeating the cultures and being adopted into the practices of college and universities. While the research did show an increased interest in implementing data to affect change, the interest isn’t being widely implemented. “While the calls to adopt a data-driven mindset have been gaining momentum, higher education institutions seem to still be falling behind in terms of implementing data analytics into their decision-making processes, ” said Danielle Caldwell, Content Marketing Manager at Helix and co-author of the report.  “The good news is that the institutions surveyed show interest in tracking additional data and see the value in using that data to inform decisions. The field is moving in the right direction.”

Jim Fong, Founding Director of UPCEA’s Center for Research and Marketing Strategy and co-author of the report, adds, “By working toward the practical implementation of data, colleges and universities will find themselves in a position to create better programs, plug revenue holes, reduce student attrition throughout the student lifecycle, and even increase capacity.”

The full report is available for free, and can be downloaded here.



Danielle Caldwell

Danielle Caldwell is the Content Marketing Manager at Helix Education. Prior to her work with Helix, Danielle served as a full-time faculty member with Westminster College’s Master of Strategic Communication program in Salt Lake City. Danielle brings nearly a decade of experience in research, communication, and higher education, and she currently still teaches graduate courses in organizational communication and research methods as an adjunct professor at Westminster College.