For this second installment in the higher education trends series, we revisited industry trends to determine client priorities for the remainder of 2016.  We’ve noticed interest among our higher education clients in digital investments, predictive analytics, stackable certificates, and prioritizing student retention. Through our research and interactions with clients, we’ve compiled a list of trends that we believe will be integral to the industry for the rest of the year. The first installment in the higher education trends series can be found here.

  1. Investment in Digital Initiatives

Website: Institution’s are becoming more cognizant of the role that the college website plays in the brand’s image. As a result, we’ve noticed an increasing focus on website personalization and optimization.  Websites that provide the visitor with a personalized experienced are building a visitor profile. Each time that visitor returns to the website, the content becomes more targeted based on their browsing history. Once an action is taken (e.g., downloading an application, making an inquiry, scheduling a campus visit, etc.), all previously anonymous data can be tied to the University’s CRM system and used by various teams (e.g., enrollment, financial aid, alumni affairs, etc.). Through tele-depth interviews to test website usability, institutions are able to determine how to best optimize its website experience and where there are areas of opportunities for personalization.

Mobile: Mobile-friendly marketing strategies are not a new topic for many higher education institutions, but enhanced rigor is being placed around ensuring the college’s website is mobile-friendly, and online courses can be accessed across multiple platforms (e.g., mobile, tablet, laptop, etc.). Essentially, mobile-friendly content boils down to three principles: – it must be easy to navigate, with fast download times, and provide a rewarding experience. Moreover, the information being sought should be available, such as a program brochure. Similar to the section above, tele-depth interviews can test mobile strategies to ensure the user experience is satisfactory across mobile applications.

Social Media: Many higher education institutions have been engaging with their stakeholders through social media for many years, but we’re noticing that more colleges are using social media as a recruitment tool. Admissions departments are using the readily available and seemingly endless number of social media platforms to research prospective students, and influence admissions decisions. To ensure that the institution is utilizing the social media platforms that resonate most with their target audiences, a prospective learner survey can be used to determine social media platform preferences and how they would like the institution to interact with them on each.

  1. Predictive Analytics

Institutions are under growing pressure to prove its value as it pertains to student success during college and after graduation. To do so, administrators are tapping into big data to develop predictive tools, allowing faculty and staff to help students showing signs of poor outcomes. An issue that many institutions grapple with is how to get the multitude of systems utilized within the college to talk to each other (e.g., getting data from Blackboard talk to a CRM program used by a different department). The industry has made strides to overcome this issue by adopting the Caliper Analyltics Interoperability Standard. The standard is a set of common definitions for what constitutes learning activity data, and how it is communicated back to institutions. Essentially that means that institutions who are concerned about having easy access to data across programs  are going to want its in-house data platforms to abide by the standards; in turn ensuring that its institutional data can be accessed  with other internal platforms. By having data accessible across programs, institutions can empower students, teachers, staff, and administrators with data that influences the learning process and identifies learning weaknesses.

  1. Stackable Certificates

As alternative learning methods are becoming more popular, stackable certificates options are more prevalent. Stackable certificates allow students to receive credit for professional experience as it relates to their program of study. In some cases, these credits qualify them for certification or advanced credentials.  The benefit to students is that is saves them time and money when completing a degree or certificate. The benefit to the institution is the ability to entice potentially new demographics (i.e., professionals and employers). Prospective students with professional experience may want to go back to college to obtain a degree or certificate in their field, but have previously been deterred by the need to take courses they could otherwise place out of if given the option. With the availability of stackable certificates, employers have access to an affordable option for keeping staff updated on cutting edge industry changes.

  1. Prioritizing Student Retention

It’s clear that student retention impacts the perceived quality of an institution. To reduce student attrition, institutions are investing more in understanding the reasons students leave the college and developing strategies to keep them engaged and enrolled. Tinto’s Model of Student Retention was developed in 1975 by Vincent Tinto and is still widely accepted. The model suggests that “a student’s likelihood of graduating is directly correlated with the degree to which the student is academically and socially integrated into the institution.” A 2015 retention benchmark poll for higher education institutions supported the model, recommending that student learning and campus integration must be a priority to promote retention. To do so, institutions are implementing retention strategies such as: academic support programs, honors programs, practical work experiences, first-year student programs, and one-on-one advising sessions as part of the mandatory curriculum. For online learners, institutions are making online faculty training and academic advising mandatory. To take a step further, institutions are also conducting satisfaction research with current and former students to determine reasons (and potential reasons) for attrition and identify areas of opportunity.

Stay tuned for updated higher education trends throughout the year! Research & Marketing Strategies, Inc. (RMS) is a market research firm located in Syracuse, NY. If you are interested in learning more about our higher education market research services, please contact the Senior Director of Business Development & Corporate Strategy, Sandy Baker at  or by calling 1-866-567-5422.