It’s September, which means that a new academic year is underway at the many institutions of higher learning here in Central New York and around the nation. Colleges and universities are known for academic research, but they also do a great deal of market research that allows them to better attract and serve students. Research & Marketing Strategies (RMS) has worked to offer those kinds of solutions to a number of institutions ranging from community colleges to liberal arts colleges to larger regional and national universities. Some of the market research studies conducted in the higher education realm are well-known and obvious, but others might surprise you. Here are just a few of the types of higher education market research RMS has done in the past and can provide to you:
- Program Feasibility Studies – The economy is constantly changing and the academic offerings from institutions of higher education should evolve along with them. But what degrees and certificates do students want? What skills are in demand? What are employers looking for? Those are issues that can be addressed through market research. A combination of surveys to potential students, interviews with top employers, and secondary research on labor-demand trends can go a long way toward determining if a proposed program can garner sufficient interest.
- Branch/Satellite Campus Feasibility Studies – Many colleges are faced with the issue of serving segments of students who are unable or unwilling to attend classes on the main campus. Research can be done to determine the best locations to put branch sites, or if distance learning or flexible course format options might eliminate the need for branch sites.
- Student Satisfaction Studies – Like consumers across all segments, the needs and expectations of college students are changing. They expect different levels of service and different amenities than students from past decades. To keep pace, colleges and universities can survey students to measure their satisfaction levels with different student services on campus.
- Failure to Enroll Studies – Every semester, at every institution, a certain number of students are admitted, but never enroll. Then there are those who drop out at various levels of the application process. The reasons people choose not to attend an institution they had expressed some level of interest in are diverse, and no doubt many of them are beyond anyone’s control. But some of those issues might be easily addressed through a new program or level of outreach, or even better recruitment materials. How many qualified students are not attending your school because of preventable issues? Those are questions that can be answered through a Failure to Enroll Study. Such studies might use a combination of surveying, in-depth interviews, focus groups or other market research tools to track down those lost opportunities and get at their reasons for not ultimately attending a college or university.
- Student Housing Studies – Just as student expectations of services are changing, so are their tastes in student housing. Many institutions have built or are planning to build new on-campus housing units. Before doing so, they should have a clear understanding about the potential demand, what amenities students want, how the new units will impact overall on-campus occupancy, and how well the new units can compete with off-campus living options. Those questions can all be addressed through market research.
- Recent Graduate Surveys – Many institutions survey their recent graduates to learn how they fared on the job market or how they are furthering their education beyond earning their degree at the school. Feedback can also be solicited that will help the institution improve the college experience for future students. Beyond their value as pure research tools, surveys such as this are a good way to begin a long-term relationship with alumni soon after graduation.
- Strategic Planning Retreats – While this is not strictly a market research activity, research is often employed at various stages of the strategic planning process. It is helpful for organizations, especially those in the midst of dynamic transitions, to bring in outside consultants to facilitate their strategic planning process. These sessions can help administrators arrive at the best goals and strategies to keep their institutions vibrant and growing.
- Mystery Shopping – This versatile market research method can be used as a free-standing research activity or part of a larger study. Mystery shopping can be a good way to get an objective look at what students experience at the various points of contact at an institution including the application process, registration, financial aid, advisement, housing, or even the process to obtain a parking pass. Mystery shoppers can make telephone inquiries, in-person visits, request information through the school’s website then document and evaluate the experience they had. The findings of these front-line evaluations can be eye-opening to administrators and provide a student’s-eye (or prospective student’s eye) perspective that is difficult to obtain through other means.
These are just a few types of market research projects that colleges and universities can undertake to improve. It is by no means an exhaustive list. Just as is the case with the learning that takes place inside a classroom, the learning that colleges can obtain from studying the needs of their students is boundless.