The Evolution of Data Targeting Prospective College Students

Apr 10, 2017 by

With increasingly sophisticated data, universities are constantly courting prospective attendees.

Jeffrey Selingo –

April is decision month for high-school seniors who still haven’t made up their minds about where they’re attending college next fall. With students applying to more schools than ever before—more than one-third now apply to at least seven schools—many seniors are likely weighing multiple offers as well as competing financial-aid packages.

As a result, colleges put on a full-court press in these final weeks before the traditional May 1 decision day, hoping a personalized email, a phone call, or a visit to campus with other admitted students will be enough to assure a deposit for the freshman class. But securing that commitment is becoming more difficult by the year for admissions offices nationwide. Yield rates—the number of admitted students who actually attend—have been in a free fall at all but the most elite institutions in recent years.

Compounding the low yield rates are stagnant retention rates among first-year students and colleges’ over reliance on tuition dollars as a main source of revenue. In a move to fill seats with students who will stay through graduation and are able to pay a significant slice of the tuition bill, colleges are increasingly turning to Big Data to better pinpoint prospects as early as their sophomore year of high school. The new approach builds on colleges’ efforts of the past two decades in which they aggressively adopted the playbook of consumer marketers by purchasing student names from the big testing companies—the ACT and the College Board.

In the pre-internet days, “student names were released once a year and the strategy was to get the names on the day they were released to get an admissions piece in the mail before students were flooded with materials from other colleges,” said Scott Verzyl, the associate vice president for enrollment management at the University of South Carolina. “Now the marketing to students never stops.”

The endless pursuit of students has upended the traditional admissions calendar into a year-round endeavor where both sides try to infer the intentions of the other. While colleges say the heightened attention allows them to find good students who might not otherwise apply, the outreach is rarely evenly distributed. Students with similar test scores and high-school grades might receive vastly different amounts of mail from colleges based simply on how they answered one or two questions when they registered for the SAT or ACT, or if they answered them at all.

What’s more, the increased marketing by colleges doesn’t necessarily mean students make better decisions about which college is best for them, said Nicole Hurd, the founder and chief executive officer of the College Advising Corps, which places recent college graduates in high schools to work as college advisers.

“The question for students is whether this is a school where they’ll reach their promise or is it just a school with flashy marketing,” Hurd said. “Admissions marketing is focused on college as a consumer good rather than an investment. It’s all about the amenities for students. I’ve never seen graduation rates promoted in a marketing campaign.” Indeed, in their marketing, many colleges emphasize the bells and whistles: the fancy dorms, climbing walls in the state-of-the-art recreation center, and sushi in the dining hall or all-night coffee shops.

continue The Evolution of Data Targeting Prospective College Students – The Atlantic

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.