Leveraging big data has been a focus of discussion in many industries, but the truth is that colleges could greatly improve forecasting and decision-making by simply altering how they collect and manage data in a few key areas.

Admissions is a natural place to begin since schools are already collecting information from prospective students. In that information could be clues as to how likely the student is to enroll or, once enrolled, complete a degree.

But because there is usually some distance between those who actually collect the data and those who use it for decision-making, the data collected during the admissions process can be fragmented. Below are the typical barriers to collecting high-value information during the admissions process — and solutions.

“Generally, frontline staff in most industries do not value data if they don’t understand its impact,” said Jason Meek, Collegis Education’s Director of Analytics. “It can help if they are given an incentive to fully capture each lead’s data points.”

Barrier 1: Lack of awareness

Lack of awareness often keeps colleges and universities from harnessing the potential of the data they collect. Another barrier is that admissions teams are sensitive to form fatigue among prospective students. As a result, request-for-information forms may leave out questions that could be of value to the marketing team.

Solution

Marketing and admissions should talk about the top three data points that are most beneficial to the marketing team, and then explore ways to capture that information in user-friendly ways in the forms that prospective students typically submit.

“Generally, frontline staff in most industries do not value data if they don’t understand its impact,” said Jason Meek, Collegis Education’s Director of Analytics. “It can help if they are given an incentive to fully capture each lead’s data points.”

Alternatively, the information could be captured by an admissions person while following up on a request for information.

Barrier 2: Manually entered data

Data analysts know that information entered by hand is prone to mistakes and inconsistency. This is true whether answers are handwritten or typed.

Solution

Use a drop-down menu or checkbox to prevent misspellings or incomplete answers.

Barrier 3: Overestimating how clean your data is

Data analysts often see that an organization’s leaders have overestimated how clean their data is, and colleges are not immune. The more distance there is between decision-makers and analysts, the less likely it is to get hands-on exposure to what was actually collected. So, what do we mean by “clean”?

  1. Each question on a form is answered in completion. For example, when asking for the prospect’s name, both the first name and last name should be captured.
  2. Every question on the form is required. If an online form does not require an answer in order for the user to move forward, chances are that some questions will be skipped.
  3. No misspellings. If a staff person is capturing information during a phone call, for example, it’s possible they won’t have a chance to verify the spellings of names, streets or towns.
  4. Eliminate duplicates. Most data analysts make a practice of scrubbing data for duplicate entries, but some can be easy to miss, especially if a prospect has provided more than one address or goes by a shortened name such as Joe instead of Joseph.

Solution

Check with your data analysts and find out what problems they’re running into. Again, using drop-down menus and checkboxes on forms could improve data quality. Bring your analysts’ feedback to the admissions team and identify ways to improve data collection in user-friendly ways.

Barrier 4: Deciding between quality and quantity

Many organizations have to choose between quality and quantity. There are pros and cons to each approach.

If quality is the priority, you may need to gather more information from prospects up front, which could scare some away. On the other hand, if quantity is prioritized, a high number of less-qualified leads could require more staff to follow up and collect more data. If additional data or scrubbing is required, institutions typically work with third parties to resolve the issues. While third-party agencies can usually find more information on a lead through as little as a phone number, it’s important to consider whether the cost will be justified once enrollment numbers come in.

Another benefit of prioritizing higher quality leads is that it could allow you to nurture and manage those leads with fewer staff, which could save money in the long run. However there are no silver bullets and each organization must prioritize based on its own situation.

Solution

Identify your top marketing pain points and work back from there. What questions do you wish you’d asked of prospective students? Consider what decisions would most benefit from information captured during the admissions process. For example, some schools find correlations between a prospect’s intention to live on campus and graduation rates. What correlations tend to be true for your school and how can predictive analytics help your school forecast budget needs or student success rates?

Once you’ve evaluated how marketing or operational decision-making might be enhanced through the addition of a few questions on admissions forms, work with your admissions team to identify whether the questions would be added to forms that a prospective student might complete. Alternatively, frontline staff in the admissions office could help capture information during follow-up calls and emails.

The bottom line

By reviewing the data you collect, you may find there are easy, low-cost ways to enhance the quality of the data you’re already receiving. Identify gaps and address pain points as you go. Or, you may find that adding a few user-friendly questions to an inquiry form can add value to your organization’s decision-making. Embrace what you can and build from there.