Like every other industry today, higher education is teeming with data. Colleges and universities collect an extensive amount of information about students before they ever step foot in a classroom. While all of this data can be incredibly valuable in higher education, you can only use it to inform decisions if you’re able to make sense of it.
Higher education metrics, when tracked over time, can provide meaningful insight into your marketing and admissions — and even your student support efforts. But because there are so many ways to measure performance, it can be easy to devote too much time to digging into numbers that aren’t particularly helpful.
Which metrics are most important? While there are numerous measures that are truly key performance indicators (KPIs) you can track to identify whether you’re achieving institutional objectives, make sure the following 14 metrics are helping to inform your strategies.
Awareness-based KPIs higher education institutions should track
A very high-funnel metric, impressions represent the total number of times your content (typically an ad) has been displayed. This doesn’t mean that a user interacted with your content, but it does mean they were exposed to it. Stagnant or lagging impressions could indicate you need to establish a stronger brand or adjust your marketing tactics
Use this metric to: gain a sense of how many users know about your brand.
2. Website traffic
There are a number of website-related metrics you can dig into, but external website traffic is arguably one of the most important. It indicates how many people arrived at your institution’s domain, whether they came from a digital ad, an email, organic search or even by entering the URL directly into their browser. Internal traffic can also be informative, but that metric mostly conveys information relevant to retention and advocacy. While there are technically numerous metrics that convey how much traffic a website receives (pageviews, users, sessions, etc.), it’s important to track at least one of them consistently over time.
Use this metric to: identify trends and determine how marketing tactics are affecting performance.
3. Return on advertising spend
Return on advertising spend (ROAS), which can be evaluated at the campaign level as well as for total marketing spend, indicates how effective your marketing efforts are. Calculate ROAS by dividing advertising revenue by advertising cost — most digital platforms track this for you. The higher the number, the greater your return.
Use this metric to: decide whether marketing spend could be better utilized.
Consideration-related KPIs higher education institutions should track
4. Inquiry submissions
This number represents the total number of prospective students who’ve expressed interest in your institution in some way. In the digital world, this often occurs when a student visits a landing page, fills out a form or registers for a webinar.
Use this metric to: gauge how interest among prospects is trending.
5. Cost per inquiry
This higher education metric helps in understanding how effectively marketing budget is being spent toward generating interest among prospective students. You can calculate cost per inquiry (CPI) across all your marketing efforts as well as at the campaign level. To determine CPI, divide marketing spend by the total number of inquiries received.
Use this metric to: identify successful campaigns and areas for improvement.
Close-phase (or “conversion”) KPIs higher education institutions should track
6. Visit registration submissions
A visit registration submission is exactly what it sounds like: a prospective student who has registered to visit your institution. Campus visits (even virtual ones) can be incredibly powerful in helping institutions drive enrollments, because students typically only attend them at the last few schools they’re considering. You can think of visit registration submissions as a precursor to later enrollments.
Use this metric to: identify quality leads that need to be nurtured.
7. Application completions
This higher education metric indicates how many students have turned in a completed application — not just those who have created an account and started to fill out an application. This distinction is important given some students never follow through on finishing and submitting every application they start.
Use this metric to: determine how well you’re pacing toward enrollment goals.
8. Admissions (or “Admits”)
For most colleges and universities, not every student is eligible for acceptance. Your total number of admits tells you not just how many students completed the application process, but how many have been officially accepted for admission.
Use this metric to: gain insight into what enrollments may ultimately be and to determine the quality of leads coming in through marketing and enrollment efforts
The total number of enrolled students — enrollments or “enrolls” for short — is how many students have taken all the final steps to begin their studies at your institution, including submitting their deposit and registering for classes. For most institutions, growing enrollment is a consistent goal.
Use this metric to: determine whether your enrollment goals have been (or likely will be) achieved.
10. Cost per application
Cost per application (CPA) builds off CPI to encompass all the marketing spend it takes to get a student to submit an application. To calculate CPA, divide marketing spend by the total number of application submissions. It’s inevitable that more prospects will inquire than will apply, so expect this metric’s value to be higher than your CPI.
Use this metric to: determine the marketing and outreach spend it takes to compel students to apply.
11. Cost per enrollment
Cost per enrollment (CPE) is the total investment associated with securing a student’s seat at your institution. CPE is calculated quite simply by dividing total marketing spend by the total number of enrollments. Given the additional investment enrolling a student entails, CPE will be higher than both CPA and CPI.
Use this metric to: measure the effectiveness of your overall marketing and enrollment strategy.
Completion-related KPIs higher education institutions should track
12. Student lifetime value
Think of student lifetime value (SLV) as the education equivalent of customer lifetime value (CLV): it’s the total monetary worth the average student contributes toward your institution. This metric is a bit more complex to calculate than the others given there are so many qualitative factors involved, but some researchers suggest using the net present value method.
Use this metric to: understand the total value a student contributes to your institution, even after graduation.
13. Retention rate
Generally speaking, the retention rate refers to the share of students who continue on to the next milestone at your institution. This metric can be defined many different ways — from the first term to the second term, from one year to the next, etc. Individual schools should determine which milestones to focus on when measuring retention.
Use this metric to: understand whether there’s a need for interventions that help support students.
This metric represents the total number of degrees awarded to graduating students. Most institutions, as well as the annual Digest of Education Statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), measure conferrals on an annual basis.
Use this metric to: identify trends within your institution and to see how you compare to other colleges and universities.
Ensure your higher education metrics signal success
Higher education metrics can help you gain insight into which campaigns resonate with students, how effectively you’re nurturing leads, whether you’re on track to meet enrollment targets and more. You’ll also likely recognize whether it’s time to adjust your overall marketing strategy.
Perhaps your institution, like many others, is starting to realize using the same approach to converting prospects into attending students is no longer as effective as it once was. To find out how you can restructure the enrollment funnel to better meet your goals, read “How Colleges Can Reinvent the Enrollment Funnel.” It may just help you determine how to stand out from the crowd in an increasingly digital landscape.