Capture Blog

Providing Actionable Info: Data Science in Higher Ed

Colleges today are accumulating new data at a rate that exceeds their capacity to extract value from it. How can these institutions use this data effectively — and not just one department’s data, but also all the data across a campus that’s available and relevant?

For several reasons, university campuses often don’t know where to start. For one, there are no established industry best practices about what to measure, or around what methodology to measure it.

Also, the institutional culture at universities tends to be fragmented and inclined toward the status quo. There are often competing priorities and a lack of incentive for collaboration among different groups. There also is the issue of different data silos across campus.

With these issues in mind, how can data science and data scientists offer value to an enrollment office? The answer: by sifting through big data to solve enrollment management’s toughest requests. This means:

  1. Understanding a prospective student’s decision journey
  2. More effectively using the admission staff’s time
  3. More effectively using university marketing dollars
  4. Making better student predictions
  5. Managing dwindling budgets better
  6. Assisting in Yield and Melt strategies
  7. Aiding in student retention

How do you incorporate a data science approach to your enrollment office? Capture Higher Ed obviously has some pretty strong opinions on the matter. Brad Weiner, director of data science, says it starts with the office culture.

“Rather than hiring a few data scientists to crunch numbers and make predictions, I would first start by building a strict data driven culture,” he says. “So instead of attending team meetings with a theory — ‘our applications are up because of our visit programs!’ — we ask, ‘can we demonstrate it with data?’ ”

Colleges and universities that refuse to move away from antiquated methods, or continue to make decisions based on their guts rather than data, will really struggle, says Pete Barwis, senior data scientist at Capture. Decision-makers need to update their approach.

“Data scientists can work on answering questions that really matter to the future of the school,” Barwis says. “The answers to many research questions are interesting but not all that useful. We must focus on answering questions that provide actionable information.”

Excerpted from a presentation to the New Jersey Association for College Admission Counseling Annual Conference (NJACAC) by Geoff Broome, Enrollment Management Solutions Consultant for Capture Higher Ed, on May 22.

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