502.585.9033       info@capturehighered.com

The Birth of Data-Driven Admissions

The Birth of Data-Driven Admissions

In many ways, last year was the 40th anniversary of what we know as “enrollment management.” Why? Because 1976 was the year that Jack Maguire wrote his now-famous article in Boston College’s alumni publication, Bridge Magazine, laying out what we now know as data-driven admissions.

By the mid-1970’s, Boston College was struggling. The number of high school graduates in New England was falling and, despite offering merit scholarships, the college found itself on shaky ground. In 1973, the executive vice president, Frank Campanella, tapped Jack Maguire, a Boston College alumni and former assistant physics professor, to begin intensive fiscal planning. Maguire, then the dean of Admissions, Records and Freshman Financial Aid, laid out a plan entirely based on science: enrollment management.

data-driven admissions
Jack Maquire

In his 1976 article, Maguire defined enrollment management as “a process that brings together often disparate functions having to do with recruiting, funding, tracking, retaining and replacing students.” Maguire saw what Boston College, and all American institutions, were dealing with: a marketplace. How to deal with that market? Through technology, market prediction and financial aid strategies.

Maguire recognized the falling birth rate as easily as he saw how future college students would be cautious in light of escalating college costs. The answer was marketing — a dirty word among academics. Maguire didn’t see it that way, instead insisting on embracing the term, not as a car salesman might, but as a way to align an institution with the needs of a new kind of consumer — the “student.”

The goal was a long-range plan that focused an institution’s goals and objectives and lining that up with the students who fit those goals and objectives. “The task of a good admissions operation,” he wrote, “is to communicate these strengths to the student marketplace in a forthright and persuasive fashion.”

How to do that? Data, Maguire said. Boston College started with an annual marketing questionnaire to accepted applicants asking pointedly: How’d they get interested in Boston College? What factors influenced them to go there? Then the college analyzed the surveys and identified the trends. They adjusted their admissions strategy to fit the data.

By way of example, here’s one thing they found: Students liked the attractive campus and the fact that it was in Boston itself. The college acted on this fact, displaying pictures of the city and campus prominently in its literature. The result was increased campus tours and on-campus interviews.

Maguire also opened the door to succinct technology that could handle the data. “To understand and control this complex flow,” he argued, “reliable computerized information systems are essential … most important of all, the coordination of data retrieval, with analysis and timely decision-making based on that data, must be maintained.”

Admissions databases were born in this idea.

Boston College began doubling its application rates and concurrently decreasing its acceptance rate — accepting students who were the right fit, the cream of the crop as it were, which effectively increased Boston College’s prestige. Maguire went on to found his own successful consulting business.

Since then, enrollment management has evolved. But is it meeting the demands of the 21st century marketplace? Some argue the industry has lagged behind. Capture Higher Ed is trying to change that by providing new tools and new thinking. Click on the magnifying glass to find out more.

data-driven admissions

By Sean Hill, Senior Content Writer, Capture Higher Ed
To read the full four-part e-book, The History of Enrollment Management, click here.