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3 ways universities are leveraging big data analytics for recruitment and retention

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Director of Admissions, Florida Polytechnic University

The days of admitting students into colleges and universities based primarily on standardized test scores, high school grade point averages (GPAs) and extracurricular involvement are on the decline. Instead, university admissions officers are increasingly relying on big data to make rapid and highly precise enrollment decisions. These decisions, grounded in a wealth of new available data and predictive modeling, yield multiple long-term benefits, including enhanced student retention. Take a look at three ways in which institutions of higher learning are using big data analytics to recruit top talent and improve student retention.

Going straight to the source

Enrollment managers analyze multiple key performance indicators (KPIs) such as academic history, demographics and geographical data to better predict which students will enroll if they are accepted. In particular, universities can use geographical data to narrow recruitment campaigns to specific locations and markets.

If a university admissions office has a firm understanding of which geographical locations include the most applicants who enroll, it can cut marketing costs and produce enhanced results. Rather than investing in unfocused campaigns that target a wide audience, money can be invested in specific markets that are more likely to boost the university's yield rate. A university’s yield rate, or the percentage of admitted applicants who decide to enroll, can be used as a competitive advantage by making a university more desirable in the eyes of future applicants. A university’s yield rate, or the percentage of admitted applicants who decide to enroll, can also be used as a competitive advantage because it is a key metric in US News and World Report ratings for universities.

Looking at social media signals

Just as social media data can be a factor in decision making in industry, college admissions offices may also consider a potential student’s social media presence. According to a 2015 survey by Kaplan, 40 percent of college admissions officers said they visited applicants’ social media pages to obtain more information about them. And that trend is expected to grow.

Analyzing social media engagements not only provides insight on a candidate’s personal interests, but, over time, analysis can also determine the behaviors of those who are likely to enroll and complete a degree program. Social media monitoring platforms generate real-time insights on content type and photos posted by current students and alumni, which can lead to a better idea of the kind of social media behavior to look for in a pool of candidates. In addition to peer interaction on their personal social media accounts, a candidate’s interaction on a university’s social media channels can be of interest to an admissions officer.

Keeping students on track

Big data analytics also allows universities to intervene if problems arise in a student’s education. For example, if a student is performing poorly in prerequisite courses, an early warning system alerts advisors to intervene. Instead of falling through the cracks, students receive an early intervention with solutions such as rearranging course loads or exploring other paths to a degree.

Student retention is mutually beneficial and increasingly cost-effective for both students and universities. When students complete their programs on time, universities can avoid overenrolling new students and creating a wait list.

Enriching student recruitment and retention

In addition to using analytics for recruitment purposes, a generous number of universities offer big data analytics degree programs to teach students how to make better use of big data in the future. Big data’s ongoing evolution means admissions officers can expect much more utility from analytics in the near future. Big data analytics helps improve efficiency in the recruitment process, helps bolster student retention, allows students to find a university that fosters academic growth and provides universities with a clear view on how to reach these candidates.

Use analytics to improve student retention