Colleges and Universities Need to Master Advanced Analytics
(Psst… The Smart Ones Already Have)
Those in the trenches don’t need to be told higher education is facing serious challenges, but the reminders are everywhere. As reported by Inside Higher Ed, there’s a growing shortage of our prized input: undergraduates. Meanwhile the value of our output (a degree) is being questioned. A recent Gallup survey found that only a third of students believe they will graduate with the skills needed to be successful in the job market. On top of that, thought leaders such as Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor known for his work on disruptive innovation, has predicted that half of universities will go bankrupt in a decade. Hyperbole? Maybe not.
Difficult times indeed; and the pressure will intensify for many institutions as alternatives to traditional degrees proliferate, alternative business models hit their stride, and the big universities continue to get bigger. This disruptive environment requires transformation. And transformation means that incremental adjustments will not be sufficient.
In the business sector, some companies are using predictive analytics to dominate their markets and adapt to new challenges, while others have imploded because they could not transform their businesses or waited too long to try. Amazon, still a relative newcomer, is dominating because it’s a master at leveraging customer data. Cities all around the United States are clamoring to be the location of the much-anticipated HQ2. Meanwhile, Sears, the once-industry leading retailer has collapsed. Sears was founded by a natural salesman, Richard Warren Sears, who was brilliant at marketing—Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Sears would’ve had a lot to talk about. However, the company Sears founded swelled to be a behemoth but could not adapt to a changing marketplace.
How many and which colleges will realize the same fate as Sears? These are different times. Technology companies are redefining markets while many colleges are still operating under conventional thinking about how to secure best-fit students, retain them, and graduate them. Higher education needs to think and act more progressively by using solutions that are adaptive to an ever-changing student landscape. Advanced analytics is one of those solutions.
Are you listening? The data is talking to you
Students send data points constantly, from the first time they visit your website to their participation in alumni activities. Not capturing—and acting on—that data puts your school at a disadvantage. It’s like a player not showing up to the huddle and being surprised when they miss the play. Advanced analytics gives universities tools to harness the signals students are sending and the insight to act upon them. Technology has accelerated the speed of interactions and transactions. Advanced analytics allows universities to track their metrics in real-time and respond accordingly. Hindsight may be 20/20, but by then it’s too late to act. Colleges must capture data and leverage it to enroll, retain, and graduate students.
A new model: Students as informed consumers
In industry, data and advanced analytics provide companies with insights that help them understand customers’ motivations and intent. Prescient use of this data has created powerhouses like Google and Amazon. Higher education must make the pivot to viewing students as informed consumers and predict what will motivate them and what they want/need to be successful. This is the way customers now interact with companies; it is expected. Customers have become accustomed to a tailored experience. They anticipate—and appreciate—outreach customized to them. Form letters and mass mailers won’t do. Advanced analytics allows schools to understand students as individuals and design their outreach to each student’s needs. It is vital that universities not be focused on the past, but act on the opportunities of the present with the tools of the future (and the future is now).
According to recent research on “The New Generation of Students: How Colleges Can Recruit, Teach, and Serve Gen Z” by Jeffrey Selingo of the Chronicle of Higher Education, this expectation is only increasing. The Gen-Z generation knows no other way. Growing up entirely in the digital age with a smartphone and social media, Gen Zers see technology as an extension of themselves with respect to how they communicate, manage friendships, consume information, and learn. Campus leaders now must pay attention, as this new generation coincides with a shrinking pool of high-school graduates and increased expectations for student success—which is rapidly becoming a personal definition of student success.
The importance of iterating through innovation
There is a multiplier effect to mastering analytics. As companies use data to make decisions about their customers, they get exponentially faster and better at it. Amazon today is not the Amazon of five years ago; their ability to use data science continues to evolve and outpace their competitors. Their speed to insight and delivery against customer needs is part of what separates them from everyone else. The colleges and universities that adopt artificial intelligence and advanced analytics will have this same game-changing advantage. The institutions that remain at the top of the “rankings” are already rapidly investing in this technology and these solutions. They are transforming themselves.
Advanced analytics does not mean getting better data from what happened in the past (although that is important). The key question for organizations is if they can predict the future. And if they can predict the future, the question that follows is: can they optimize the outcome? Prediction is not about being 100 percent right. It’s about increasing your batting average. Through data capture and engineering, and advanced analytics organizations can use information to make informed choices and try alternatives. Advanced analytics is not looking for one seismic shift, but hundreds of tiny corrections. Advanced analytics allows universities to drill down to the individual student and the individual points in their college careers that are pivotal. By targeting the moments that matter with the most promising prospects and current students, institutions can optimize the relationship between the individual and the school. They will not only identify and enroll those students who are the best fit, but deliver personalized education that propels them to a successful college experience, career, and life. Keen use of advanced analytics not only creates an optimal future for the university, it creates one for the students.
Andy Hannah is the founder and CEO of Othot, a higher education enrollment and retention company. He is an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship and analytics and an entrepreneur in residence at the University of Pittsburgh College of Business Administration.
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