Data analytics helps universities increase student recruitment & retention. Here’s how

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By U2B Staff 

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Data analytics has never been easier as universities rely on more digital tools to carry out operations.

As universities grow increasingly digital, so does the digital trail that contains a plethora of information. These digital tracks hold data that is of rich value to institutions of higher education.

The data can basically tell university leaders if what their institution has been doing is effective, and what changes they need to make to improve student outcomes.

An article published by McKinsey & Company on what real-time data analytics can do for higher education details the many ways university leadership can incorporate analytics into their operations.

The article comes with strong recommendations for university leaders to use data analytics to create new ways universities can engage prospective students, increase enrolment, improve retention and completion rates as well as how it can even be used to boost faculty productivity and research.


How Deakin Uni improved communication with current and prospective students

Deakin University used data analytics to meet its data integration challenge. The university lacked suitable technology that hindered its ability to truly understand its customer – its current and prospective students.

This posed a marketing challenge to the university’s recruitment which led to its initiative to integrate all its data from disparate sources to radically improve timeframes and processes for handling communications with current and prospective students.

The data analytics platform, Alteryx was deployed to create a coherent picture of the customer – both to understand the customer, but also to understand the customer experience.

Manager of marketing analytics for Deakin University, Chris Logie, in a statement to CMO Australia said, “The task was “understanding what the customer is doing at that particular point in time with Deakin and then talking to them about the specific problems that they’re facing rather than them being faceless customers.”

The university invested in a data analytics platform, Alteryx to collate and manage data from all traditional data sources used previously, including Excel and SPSS.

Logie commenting on the process, said that consolidating the data involved gathering it from all the different systems and then pushing it into different algorithms or workflows. It then goes through the process of data cleansing, preparation, joining, and parsing.


The process not only helped the university improve how it manages data but more importantly, it generated various practical and tangible insights that are beneficial to the university’s marketing function.

The university is reporting positive results from the implementation of the data analytics platform. Logie reports that the university has been able to overhaul handling of student inquiries and has radically shortened turnaround times in responding to inquiries – leading to a tangible uptick in conversion rates.

The platform also shows significant success in matching university courses to real-world student demand and workplace needs. Logie elaborates that the matrix on the platform assesses the market attractiveness of courses and strength of the courses offered by the university to provide valuable insights.

The significance of getting data to tell you how well your courses are faring in the open market is invaluable. The attractiveness of a university’s course will provide great insights into the future job market.

Lodie adds, “The whole premise behind the matrix is being able to identify courses that support jobs of the future. We look at what courses are growing in the market and what key occupations or jobs or skills are growing in demand in Australia so we can align those more closely.”

This information impacts how the university carries out its recruitment strategies as it now has the tools to help it identify the challenges faced by its customers. The university, through these insights, will be able to prevent bad customer experiences by ensuring that it uses the right communication process and tools to meet its customers’ expectations.


Data analytics will alert universities when students are about to drop out

The use of data analytics to measure student retention will be possible through thought he combination of artificial intelligence and predictive analysis.

Higher education enrolment and retention solutions provider, Othot. Inc developed an artificial intelligence system that will help students succeed in university to increase retention.

Othot’s partnership with the University of Pittsburgh allows the university to use the company’s recommendations to help students choose a study abroad programmes, which is important for student retention, says Stephen Wisniewski, Pitt’s vice provost for data and information.

“We know that an engaged student is more likely to persist and at a much higher rate,” Wisniewski adds. “Study abroad programs at Pitt are a centrepiece of that measure of engagement.”

Co-founder of Othot, Andy Hannah explains that the artificial intelligence system focuses on optimising the student’s situation and will help the student to graduate under the best of circumstances.

The Othot platform is a cloud-based software that collects data from multiple points. It gathers information including a student’s high school and college grades, financial circumstances and co-curricular activities, as well as census numbers and other information.

The data pulled by the system to develop a deep ‘understanding’ of the student. This information will then be used by the system to predict if the student will struggle academically and suggest ways to help them succeed.

Student recruitment

Universities need to leverage on data to truly understand the individual in order to improve student recruitment and retention. | Source: Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP


The information will help administrative staff at universities to introduce timely interventions – including offering academic counseling or financial aid.

Hannah says that the tool is an important key to ensuring that students succeed and can graduate – all of which improves student retention.

Universities will be able to take advantage of such technology, now made available to mitigate the struggles that arise as university costs increase. With student enrolment projected to decrease in the coming years due to lower birth rates, universities will have to compete against each other to recruit and retain freshmen.

“It’s just refreshing to me to see that power being used to help students reach their desired endpoints, which is graduating and getting great jobs with debt that they can manage,” Hannah concluded.

Where do universities start?

Universities should understand that every decision made should be supported by data. A great place to start is by structuring all data generated into datasets and storing them in connected data warehouses.

Universities should work with partners to develop automated connections with analytics platforms, to allow for a simplified analysis of the data.

Data by itself is useless if not supported by good analytical tools so to improve the analysis, it is important to create insightful dashboards that will help visualise the data. This process will result in clear and actionable results.

Universities armed with a deep analysis of the data they collect will show what has been achieved so far and what decisions need to be made to progress in the right direction.

Data needs to be treated as an important asset for universities, to underpin their strategy and deepen the engagement with their current and prospective students, as well as various stakeholders.