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How Schools Can Use Data to Make More Effective Marketing Investments

The EvoLLLution | How Schools Can Use Data to Make More Effective Marketing Investments
Thorough market research can help institutions more efficiently allocate marketing funds by ensuring programs are meeting the needs of both current and prospective students.

Everyone in higher education marketing is familiar with the numbers—sometimes all too familiar. According to a survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education, almost half of all higher education institutions have seen declining enrollments. At the same time, competition for students is on the rise, and institutional staff are often overwhelmed by the work required to meet students’ needs and compete effectively.

All of which is leading more and more schools to ask: how can we engage prospective students more strategically? For many colleges and universities, one answer lies in marketing degree programs based on insights gleaned from analytics. To ensure that students connect with the best programs—without overburdening staff—these schools are taking a new approach, one driven by market research. When investment and support dollars are limited, aligning priorities with data-driven insights is essential to long-term performance.

Identifying opportunities

Market research can drive effective communications between institutions and their students in a variety of ways. One key role of research lies in shaping the way institutions market degree programs.

How exactly does market research deliver this competitive edge? There are four key questions about programs that market research can answer, and each of these questions is vital to a program’s success.

1. What are major areas of student demand?

Primary research in the form of surveys and interviews can help schools identify skills, degrees and career options that are of particular interest to students, as well as more granular details around course preferences, communication needs and scheduling. Students may have relevant preferences about program durations, instruction styles, class times and online course components. Understanding these preferences is essential to efficiently market programs that meet the needs of students. These preferences also highlight areas for expansion such as online learning or competency-based credit or rolling admissions schedules.

2. How do programs fit into the wider marketplace?

Is a given marketplace saturated with programs similar to your school’s programs or are your programs filling an underserved niche? Are students struggling to find an institution where they can learn a particular skill or pursue a particular career, or do they already have too many choices? Among institutions with similar programs, how have they implemented those programs? Are there clearly identifiable areas for improvement or differentiation?

These and other related questions can provide valuable guidance for prioritizing an institution’s degree programs. One excellent resource for research is public data on competing institutions, such as the information made available by the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Often, it is possible to find information on enrollment figures, graduation rates, post-graduation employment rates, staff and budget, and more. By looking at the levels of supply and demand, it may become clear which programs offer the most opportunity for growth.

3. How does our program marketing fit with our school’s brand and capabilities?

How do the programs that you are marketing align with the school’s existing brand? Do they make an appropriate fit with both the institution’s reputation and goals for the future? For many schools, these are crucial questions, and a data-driven approach helps them move carefully. Market research can help determine how the marketing of various degree programs may affect students’ and prospective students’ perceptions of the institution as a whole.

Just as importantly, schools can ensure that they prioritize programs for marketing investment in a way that aligns with their capabilities. By matching their efforts to faculty and support staff capacity with objective data, they can avoid overtaxing their teams.

4. What skills are employers seeking?

Today’s students are highly career-oriented, seeking programs that prepare them effectively to become part of the workforce. Research can give educators more perspective on the skills that employers require in fields of interest to students or fields that provide students with strong opportunities. Programs might incorporate features such as certification preparation and focused concentrations to help students prepare more effectively, developing marketable expertise.


When institutions market programs without grounded answers to the questions above, they run the risk of allocating marketing funds disproportionately, perhaps even marketing a program without an audience. But today, market research is helping schools be more and more efficient by enabling them to market degree programs according to the needs, interests and makeup of their target student audience—all in a cost-effective and efficient way.

With this data in hand, institutions are able to leverage the time and effort of their marketing teams far more effectively, connect with students more reliably, and ultimately boost enrollment. Ultimately, research helps both students and institutions succeed.

To learn more on improving your student recruitment strategies, download Blackboard’s free Marketing Recruiting eBook.

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