The challenges that exist for growth and stability in higher education are well documented. The biggest concerns that Strategic Enrollment Management leaders from Othot’s Partner Schools consistently share are (1) a decrease in demographics, (2) an imbalance between sticker price of college and ability to pay, and (3) questions around the ROI on higher education.

Recent analysis, surveys, and data that have been referenced and reported on within the past month are doing nothing to mitigate these concerns.

Here are a few that have caught our attention:

  • According to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, the number of students enrolled in college has dipped slightly below 18 million for the first time in a decade. And while decreases in enrollment are not unexpected in a strong economy, future growth or recovery is not expected over the next 10 years.
  • Moody’s, which cited recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), notes that the number of high school graduates will increase only 0.2% over the next nine years, compared to 6% during the last nine years. Colleges in the Northeast and Midwest are expected to be the hardest hit, with high school graduate declines of 4% and 2%, respectively. The South, however, is expected to see a 6% uptick in high school graduates.
  • U.S. demographics are also shifting. The number of high school graduates is flat — and in some cases declining — because of lower birth rates about 20 years ago. Those numbers are also projected to decline, so the trend of fewer high school students isn’t going away anytime soon. Moreover, growth is expected to come from underrepresented student populations in the coming years.
  • Student perceptions about the value of a college education may also be shifting. When asked how important a college education is today, 41% of U.S. adults aged 18-29 say “very important,” which is down a whopping 45% since 2013 when 74% said the same. And what about the notion that if it is more expensive, it must be better. Not so, according to a new study published in The Journal of Consumer Affairs. It turns out the cost of a college does not predict higher alumni ratings about the quality of their education. In fact, the opposite is true: total cost of attendance predicts lower ratings.

Analytics are a Valuable Tool

My 20 years working in data-driven businesses have shown me that analytics can be the most valuable tool that an organization has for gaining insights into its customers. Companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft have been investing for years in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. From an analytics perspective, these investments are designed to unleash a different type of insight.

Analytics has historically been about collecting descriptive data that tells us something about customers and their needs or interests in a product or service and then possibly developing some diagnostic insights around this same data set. Applications of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning now allow us to create learnings from data that can predict what will happen and how you could change the outcome if you did x, y, or z.

2020 Vision with Prescriptive Analytics

This most progressive advancement is known as prescriptive analytics. Imagine having the power to inform your team on what action to take with a prospective or current student, what words to use or highlight, what financial aid package to create for each student. Using data to better understand the customer experience and anticipate customer intent is the ultimate advantage in personalization.

Today, that possibility is very real.

As my colleague, Bob DiMaggio, has written, the future of data analytics in higher education is prescriptive analytics. Othot’s work with Strategic Enrollment Management leaders at schools like Arizona State, NJIT, Texas Tech, and MassArt are tangible examples of how this can translate into more targeted marketing and recruitment strategies, financial aid optimization, and operational efficiencies.

Analytics Beyond Enrollment

Many institutions, especially those that are facing demographic challenges and/or outcome-based public financing criteria, are also exploring how new approaches and fresh thinking can apply to Student Success.

It makes sense, right?

Progressive thinking in Strategic Enrollment Management is about looking at the student in a more holistic way and investments in Student Success initiatives are becoming more than just talk. Schools like the University of South Florida and the University of Rhode Island are seeing real benefits from these investments and are looking to put their own stamp on redefining Student Success at their institutions and beyond.

In a future blog post, we’ll highlight some ways that Othot is helping our partner schools use advanced analytics for Student Success.

The Proof is in the Pudding

The evidence is building to support the notion that in analytics different can mean better, especially in cases where private industry has provided a strong blueprint.

More broadly, industry challenges and disruption often serve as incredible catalysts for larger change and innovation. And success with new approaches breeds confidence. While Othot has been speaking to (and providing) the benefits of prescriptive analytics since 2016, now more than ever, what we are seeing from Strategic Enrollment Management leadership is a greater openness to explore and evolve decision-making models in ways that can leverage new tools and approaches.1

decision making model

1 What AI-Driven Decision Making Looks Like, Eric Coulson, Harvard Business Review 2019

At the recent Advanced Analytics Summit sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh and Othot, leaders from schools like Arizona State, UT-Austin, Penn State, and CMU shared examples of how they are helping their respective institutions establish new processes and approaches, design new organizational structures, and adopt new analytics approaches and tools. Othot’s 2019 Partner Experience and Innovation Summit’s theme was “Changing the Game” and it offered numerous examples of how our Partner Schools are thinking and acting differently by using analytics.

Industry leaders like Chris Lucier and Patty Beeson have helped Othot and our Partner Schools envision how our solutions can support and empower decision-making at different levels of an organization.

Othot Journey from Goals to Outcomes

Looking Forward

The Strategic Enrollment Management leaders of the future will artfully bridge what has worked in the past with creativity and fresh thinking. New developments in analytics represents an area that has incredible potential and understanding where and how to invest in them is becoming increasingly critical.

Will 2020 be the year of prescriptive analytics for Strategic Enrollment Management leaders? Time will tell.

Years from now, I do believe that we will see dramatic differences in growth and stability in those institutions that have cultivated their Strategic Enrollment Management leaders and made investments in new approaches to analytics. Adoption of progressive decision-making models that leverage key advancements in analytics will be terrific indicators for leaders guiding their institutions through challenging times.