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The Role of Data in Higher Education Enrollment

Data can help higher ed institutions make more informed decisions to better meet learner and employer needs, but it must be accessible and accurate. 

Enrollment trends are continuing to be a concern for higher ed leaders, and it’s important to be well informed before making decisions. Real-time data plays a key role in helping institutions make informed decisions that can help them better serve their learners—which isn’t always easy. In this interview, Olivia De La Rosa discusses enrollment trends in higher ed, the role data plays and the importance of accessing real-time data.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): How have you personally observed the higher ed landscape evolve in recent years, especially when it comes to enrollment trends and changes in the learner demographics?

Olivia De La Rosa (OR): In the continuing education space, we have seen an increase of adult learners enrolling in short-term programs. Some are simply upskilling to advance in their careers, but an increasing number are taking programs to reskill. Since our programs are short, they see them as an opportunity to explore an industry or career without making a long-term commitment. Within a matter of weeks, they can either walk away with a certification that puts them on a new career path or figure out that it is not what they envisioned.

In our area of the state, we have also seen a lot of people come in for GED preparation courses. Most want their GED to secure a job, but we are seeing more individuals who want their GED to enroll in a credit program. We have a good relationship with the credit programs at our college and have been able to design programs that allow our GED students to not only obtain their GED but start on a path to a credit program.

Evo: What role does real-time enrollment data play when it comes to meeting the needs of these modern learners?

OR: Enrollment data helps us make informed decisions. It lets us know if we need to revise or develop programs, add additional course sections, adjust class dates or times, etc. Real-time enrollment data allows us to react quickly to ensure we’re meeting modern learners’ needs. In today’s fast-changing world, we know that if we do not give learners what they want and need now they will find other options.

Evo: What are the challenges to accessing enrollment and real-time data?

OR: One challenge is the inaccuracy of real-time data. Student registrations, payments and withdrawals are processed manually in my department, which means real-time data is inaccurate. Depending on the class or program, these inaccuracies can make it difficult to determine if a class should start as scheduled or if additional sections need to be opened.

Another challenge that we have is the way the enrollment data is downloaded. For noncredit programs, we are unable to download data for one specific program. We download data for a specified period, then we have to sort for the program or programs we need. The data also does not show any notes that have been added to help us identify programs conducted for specific populations. Depending on the amount of data downloaded, it can take a day or more to sort the data.

Evo: What are some best practices to overcome the obstacles mentioned?

OR: We no longer rely solely on daily enrollment reports. We now look at enrollment two weeks at a time: the past week and the current week. Focusing on a two-week period has helped us identify trends or potential issues that can affect the service we provide learners.

We are also working on setting up noncredit courses in our ERP by focus area and by revenue source, which will make it easier to identify populations served, areas of potential revenue growth and high-demand programs.

Evo: What impact does having access to this type of data have, not only on the institutional strategy but decision-making?

OR: Data allows us to make quicker decisions to ensure we meet learner and employer needs. Data allows us to plan rather than be playing catch-up.

Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add?

OR: I hope that data collection and access to real-time data for noncredit programs are easier to come by in the near future. Continuing education has become more than just fun courses for the community. We are creating noncredit-to-credit pathways, offering programs with industry-based certifications and providing learners with the skills they need for employment. To continue doing more for our learners, we need to ensure that data is readily available.