Five Steps for Data-Driven Strategic Enrollment Management

Establish your goals
This first step is crucial for mapping out a course to your end goal. Try to envision where you’d like to end up and formulate a specific goal to help get you there.

Possible goals include:

  • Reduce your prospect mailing budget
  • Increase accuracy of enrollment yield predictions
  • Meet diversity objectives
  • Increase your retention rate

Get to know your data
The first step to getting to know your data is gaining access to your data, which is trickier for some people than others. If you have to go through IT to access your data, it helps to have a clear goal in mind and a good idea of what fields or tables you’ll need.

Once you have your data, you’ll need some time to get well-acquainted. A good starting point is to make sure you understand what each field represents and how things are coded. If you have questions about how data is being recorded or stored, this is the time to ask. Once you have a handle on what your data represents, you’ll want to thoroughly review it.

A few suggestions:

  • Spot-check the accuracy of your data. Double-checking things like the mean, min, and max for each variable is a quick way to verify accuracy. If you spot any data quality issues, do your best to resolve them sooner than later.
  • Check for missing values. If you have a variable with a high number of missings, you’ll need to decide whether or not to use that variable and if there’s a way to fill in what’s not there.
  • Brainstorm ideas for new variables. If you can’t create new variables from what you have on-hand, spend some time thinking about things that might be worth tracking going forward.

 Analyze your data

I realize that the word “analyze” represents a whole spectrum of techniques and applications – and that’s okay. In a general sense, you’ll want to see if fields in your dataset can give you some insight that you can relate back to your initial goal(s).
Some ideas:

  • Look at correlations within your dataset. Are they positive or negative? Large or small?
  • Look for the differences between your target and non-target population, variable by variable.
  • Visuals help! Graphs are a great way to get a feel for the relationships between your variables.
  • Try building a predictive model. The results you get will be more directly applicable to driving decisions.

You may get some surprising results during the analysis phase. I’ve worked on projects where the end insight was the exact opposite of what was expected. Although sometimes the results can be surprising, it’s important to let your data tell its story. The other side of analysis is that your data can confirm what you’ve long-suspected to be the truth – whether it’s that students from Montana are more likely to enroll, or that the number of first term credits impacts a student’s likelihood of attrition – embrace these confirmations and continue to rely on that information.

Turn analysis into insight
Keep your initial question in mind, take what you’ve learned from your analysis, and apply it going forward. The idea here is to replace outdated anecdotal evidence with insights from our data. If your goal was to save money on prospect marketing efforts, use the factors that correlate to a higher response rate to drive your decisions about who will receive the next round of direct mail. If you’re trying to improve retention rate, target those students who look most like previously dropped students and reach out to help keep them on campus.

Assess your decisions
Last, but certainly not least, don’t forget to circle back and re-assess your decisions. If you feel like you’re not making progress toward your initial goal, consider re-framing it or breaking it down into more manageable phases. If you feel good about the progress you’re making, start working on new goals. A data-driven decision should be sustainable under conditions similar to the past. Don’t be afraid to revisit past goals if you feel like you can improve or add something to your initial recommendation.

…Did we miss anything? Have questions about becoming more data-driven? Leave them in the comments below.
-Caitlin Garrett, Statistical Analyst at Rapid Insight

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