Why you need to track source code performance in your college student pool

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Proper source code analysis can help campuses understand the origin of their inquiries, applicants, admits, and enrolled students.

I had a recent discussion with several colleagues regarding the need in higher education to better understand source code performance and its impact on enrollment success, as well as how it informs and affects future recruitment strategies and effectively projects enrollment. This conversation triggered a realization that seems so simple yet eludes so many of us: A major issue in enrollment management today begins at…the beginning.

What I mean by this is that a growing number of institutions lack a fundamental understanding of which initial source codes result in the most inquiries, applications, admits, and enrolled students. Not only do many enrollment managers have little understanding of source code performance, others either do not have the time, resources, or full understanding of how to track the effectiveness of those events that bolster results at the top of the funnel as well as the rest of the funnel.

In addition, there is a need for enrollment professionals to become reacquainted with which sources to deliberately track. Although many schools have been quite effective in knowing the who, what, when, and where of tracking data to inform strategy, others have continued to follow the path of “this is what we have always done” instead of using data to guide decision making as much as they should. By no means am I insinuating that this comes from poor leadership in most cases; instead, I see that this is a product of antiquated technologies, few professional development opportunities, a lack of data analysts on campus who also understand enrollment management, and the cumulative effect of poorly collected data over many years.

So what is wrong and how do we begin to fix the issue? I believe that the first steps toward getting on the right track can be followed by answering three basic questions:

  • What sources currently produce any inquiries in our pool?
  • Are we effectively tracking these sources, and if so, how are they converting through the entire funnel?
  • How are we using the data to help inform and affect recruitment strategies?

Here’s how to answer each one of those questions in order to make your college student source code analysis more strategic and illuminating.
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Eight ways to get the most from college recruitment funnel tracking

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Accurate funnel tracking for college student recruitment remains critical. Why? Because accurate college student funnel data remain one of the best resources available to project enrollment for today’s colleges and universities.

The following are some specific suggestions for how colleges and universities can get the most value from funnel tracking efforts in today’s higher education environment. For further information or discussion, consider arranging a complimentary telephone consultation with a Noel-Levitz enrollment consultant.

1) Use multiple funnels when you track your institution’s funnel data. As Noel-Levitz’s latest data demonstrate in the 2014 Recruitment Funnel Benchmarks Report, different types of students convert and yield at different rates, so it is no longer possible to use a “one-size-fits-all” funnel. We recommend that most four-year public and private campuses should, at minimum, be using separate funnels for traditional and nontraditional-age freshmen, transfers, in-state, out-of-state, international, and paper vs. online applicants. In addition, separate funnels should be used for those who enter at the application stage (secret shoppers) vs. those who enter at the inquiry stage.

2) Fine-tune your enrollment predictions by comparing your current funnel data to your institutions’ funnel data from previous years. It is essential that every institution look back at its own internal benchmarks first, even before examining external benchmarks such as those from Noel-Levitz. By examining your institution’s historic conversion rates at each stage of the admissions cycle and for each type of applicant, you can better predict where your future enrollment will end up as each day and week of the admissions cycle unfolds. For effective internal benchmark comparisons, we advise our client institutions to store and analyze three to five years of comparative data. To more fully understand how to use this historical trend data to predict and influence enrollment, see the table and illustrations on pages 2 and 3 of the Noel-Levitz white paper, 7 Categories of Admissions Data to Guide Decision-Making.

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Why we need to hear about college student retention programs that are working

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Excellent retention programs make a difference in student success every day on college campuses. All across the country, campus retention professionals go the extra mile to help as many students as possible succeed, persist, and complete their educations. It’s important to recognize these remarkable efforts, not just to acknowledge the fantastic work of those dedicated colleagues, but so that others can learn from their examples and make vital changes in their own retention efforts.

So, are you ready to share your story and be recognized for your efforts? Then you should apply for a Retention Excellence Award (REAs).

Lee Noel and Randi Levitz started these awards in 1989 in order to celebrate exceptional retention programs and promote awareness of effective retention practices. The REAs honor the retention achievements of postsecondary institutions throughout North America. More than 165 colleges and universities have received an REA since the program began. As a result of this national exposure, these award-winning programs have served as models of retention excellence to stimulate the creativity and energy of hundreds of two-year and four-year institutions.

These success stories have been compiled in The Compendium of Successful, Innovative Retention Programs and Practices a valuable resource that provides descriptions of the programs that have been recognized over the years. You can download the compendium to find new ideas that may be just what your campus needs to spark additional retention improvement. It includes many examples such as:

  • Madonna University (MI) developing the Bridging Lost Gaps (BLG) initiative in 2011 to increase the recruitment and retention of African American male students.
  • Paul Smith’s College (NY) implementing a Comprehensive Student Support Program as part of a strategically driven change in focus to a holistic student success model.
  • The Six Pillars of Retention that Seward County Community College/Area Technical School (KS) followed to improve Hispanic student retention.
  • Virginia Commonwealth University developing a proactive advising program for undeclared students.

These programs and many others are shared so you don’t have to re-invent the wheel. You just need to follow their lead and make it work for your own campus.
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The satisfaction and priorities of online college learners

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Are online students satisfied with instruction?

As we discussed in a previous blog, faculty interactions are a pivotal point of the college student academic experience.  This is true for students in online courses as well.  The quality of instruction, clearly defined assignments and faculty responsiveness are three key elements that influence student perceptions about the academic quality of their online experience.  So how do online learners nationally rate their experience with faculty?

The 2014-2015 National Online Learners Priorities Report provides insight to student perceptions in this area.  The report reflects responses from more than 122,000 college students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate online courses between the fall of 2011 and the spring of 2014.  The tables below show three key ratings that illustrate student perceptions on the instruction they receive:

  • Importance: The percentage of online learners who said that an issue was important to them.
  • Satisfaction: The percentage of students who were satisfied with that issue,
  • Gap: The difference between the importance and satisfaction scores. Higher gap scores indicate that students are not as satisfied on issues of high importance.

On instruction-related items, online learners had high gap scores on four out of five key issues:

 

Two of these issues, faculty being responsive and faculty providing timely feedback, while also important to students in traditional programs, take on an even greater priority for students in online courses.  The nature of the 24/7 online learning environment may create an expectation of constant availability of faculty.  It is important for online faculty to communicate guidelines on what students can expect for responsiveness, and then stick to those promised timeframes.

The perception of the quality of instruction is a challenge item (high importance, large performance gap) and a priority for improvement.  Note that while 72 percent of students did indicate that they were satisfied or very satisfied in this area, the 95 percent of students who labeled it important creates a gap of 23 percent, which is why it is a challenge.  Online learning institutions have opportunities to influence perceptions of the quality of instruction through their marketing and orientation efforts, as well as with appropriate training of their online faculty.

The priority of tuition paid being a worthwhile investment is an issue for online learners as well as traditional students.

However, while the perception of tuition value is a challenge for online learners, they had considerably higher levels of satisfaction than students at four-year institutions on this item, where satisfaction ranged from 46-52 percent. (See the 2014 National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Report for more details on student satisfaction among traditional college students).

Download the 2014-2015 National Online Learners Priorities Report to see more satisfaction and priorities responses on issues such as enrollment services, academic services and student services.  The full report also includes a list of the top factors influencing online learners’ decisions to enroll in their program.

You can also learn more about the survey instrument used for the report, the Priorities Survey for Online Learners.  And as always, I am happy to answer any of your questions too.  Just send me an email or connect with me on Twitter.

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Six ways to create engaging, optimized copy for college web pages

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The following blog has been written by two colleagues on the Noel-Levitz Web Strategy and Interactive Marketing Services team, Jennifer Croft and Cynthia Williams. Jennifer is an SEO consultant with 30 years of marketing experience who has worked on more than 500 websites, including 50 higher education websites. Cynthia is a writer with more than 25 years experience developing content for all forms of media, including eight years experience writing effective optimized content for college and university websites.

Writing for the web is an art form. Do it well, and you’ll satisfy readers who scan and skim, as well as those who pore over every word on their desktops, laptops, tablets, phablets, and smart phones. Excel at it, and you’ll also attract free, qualified traffic from search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo. But how do campuses begin to strengthen the content of their web page and maximize the SEO potential of those pages, while keeping it manageable? The following six strategies have worked for many campus web content creators.

1) Prioritize the pages you optimize

To get the best return on your investment of time and/or money, focus your initial search engine optimization efforts on “magnet” pages, the ones on your website that are the most likely to attract search engine clicks.

For most colleges and universities, these are degree and program pages, followed by accreditation pages, financial aid pages, and rankings, awards, and recognition pages.

If your institution has a significant number of degree and program pages, and you need to further prioritize your work, use the following criteria to select pages for optimization:

  • Programs or degrees that have capacity for students and need an enrollment boost
  • New programs or degrees that you need to build awareness for
  • Programs or degrees that are more unique to your institution and therefore have less competition for search results from competing campuses
  • Popular programs and degrees that will have large numbers of students searching for them (e.g. criminal justice, nursing)

Helpful hint: Use web data to drive your priorities. If you’re not using tools such as Google Analytics, or are not sure how to best analyze your web data, email us and we’ll be happy to discuss strategies and best practices for web analytics.

2) Incorporate keywords into your web writing

To determine which words and phrases are the most popular (and therefore have the highest search volume), it’s important to conduct keyword research. For more on this, read our previous post on optimizing search keywords.

Helpful hint: For maximum effectiveness, insert keywords into headings and subheadings (H1 and H2), body copy, anchor text in links and photo captions. Check out these examples of how to do this for college web pages.
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Using assessment to prepare college students for realistic outcomes after graduation

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Finding employment after graduation can be a daunting task for college graduates, and utilizing assessment tools can help colleges and universities address the concerns of those about to graduate.  In my recent conversations with campus professionals in the private post-secondary sector, they have shared that their focus has been toward the reality of college graduates finding employment after graduation. Some of those campus staff shared that students were not realistic about the jobs and salaries related to their program of study and suggested that this can contribute to poor satisfaction among current students and alumni. What can colleges do to prepare students for the possible outcomes of their education?

Colleges and universities in the private post-secondary sector provide career assistance to their students, but typically, the assistance is done toward the end of the educational program (six months prior to graduation). However, some colleges begin career development for students from the beginning and continue it throughout their educational journey. Results from the 2014 National Freshman Attitudes Report suggest that students want career development from the start of their college education. If students are not receiving assistance with career development, it may affect their overall student satisfaction and possibly retention and graduation rates. With the onset of the Gainful Employment Rules, and the accompanying focus on the employment of recent graduates, their salaries, and their educational debt, this is an excellent opportunity for colleges to use student assessments to understand how their students feel about available career resources at their colleges and universities.

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2014 Noel-Levitz research highlights: 7 things we learned this year about college students and higher education enrollment management

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2014 research from Noel-Levitz shows student trends and data that colleges and universities can use to guide their planning processes.

2014 research from Noel-Levitz shows student trends and data that colleges and universities can use to guide their planning processes.

Noel-Levitz conducted numerous studies in 2014 to further understand the behaviors and attitudes of prospective and current students in higher education as they relate to student success, student retention, and new student enrollment. We also examined current campus practices for online student recruitment. Here are just a few highlights from all that we learned this year:

1. Half of college freshmen want career services upon arriving. In a new study, the desire of incoming freshmen for career services ranked highly among 25 measures of students’ desires for institutional services. There is also some evidence that freshman demand for career services remains high at mid-year. Download the 2014 National Freshman Attitudes Report, its Addendum by Race/Ethnicity, and Changes in Freshman Attitudes Following a Semester of Classes and Interventions.

2. White public high school seniors are expected to decline by 4.2 percent; Hispanic public high school seniors are expected to increase by 44.6 percent over the next ten years. A special report projects significant changes in higher education enrollments, based primarily on data from WICHE, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. Download the 2014-24 Projections of High School Graduates by State and Race/Ethnicity.

3. Many undergraduates do not feel that the tuition they pay is a worthwhile investment. In our latest national report on college student satisfaction, only approximately half of students at four-year institutions agreed that the tuition they pay is a worthwhile investment. In addition, less than 50 percent of students at those institutions and 42 percent at community colleges were satisfied with the availability of financial aid. See our 2014 National Student Satisfaction Report, its four supplements by sector, and a special companion report, The Relationship of Student Satisfaction to Key Indicators for Colleges and Universities.

4. Students’ levels of financial need continue to rise. In our 2014 Discounting Report, we found that “high need” undergraduates at a sampling of four-year private institutions continued to enroll at these institutions in greater numbers while enrollments of undergraduates with less need continued on a downward trend. The study was based on a comparative sample of institutions that are partnering with Noel-Levitz to strategically award their financial aid.
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Fall 2014 outcomes: New student enrollment stays flat, but retention rises slightly

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A forthcoming report from Noel-Levitz, Fall 2014 New Student Enrollment and Retention Outcomes at Four-Year Institutions,  has found that FTIC (first-time-in-college) enrollment essentially held steady in fall 2014 vs. fall 2013 at the median for four-year colleges and universities, with no significant changes. (The report will be released in mid-December.)

Change in fall 2014 enrollment vs. fall 2013 enrollment

New full-time, first-time-in-college, degree-seeking students

Change in enrollment among full-time FTIC students, fall 2014 compared to fall 2013 (click to enlarge).

Although it is not shown here, the report also found that new full-time transfer student enrollment remained flat at the median, similar to the FTIC outcomes.

The forthcoming report also found fall-to-fall retention rates for full-time FTIC students rose slightly at the median, with a 2.5 percent median increase in the first-to-second-year retention rate for private institutions and a marginally significant 1.4 percent median increase in the first-to-second-year retention rate for public institutions.

In addition, graduation rates rose a marginally significant 1.9 percent at the median for public institutions while remaining flat for private institutions.

Watch for the complete report to be released soon.  To receive a copy of the report when it is released, readers may subscribe to receive trend reports and papers at www.noellevitz.com/Subscribe.

Are college students satisfied with faculty?

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Faculty interactions are the pivotal point of the college student academic experience. The quality of the instruction students receive from faculty, the way faculty evaluate student work, and the availability of faculty outside of class are three key elements that shape student perceptions about the academic quality of their college experience. So how do the nation’s students feel about their interactions with faculty?

We’ve examined that question in the 2014 National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Report. This report pulls data from nearly 600,000 students attending more than 700 campuses nationwide. The tables below show the percentage of students who said that an issue was important to them, the percentage of students who were satisfied with a specific issue, and the “gap” score (the difference between importance and satisfaction). Higher gap scores indicate that students are not as satisfied on issues of high importance.

On faculty-related items, four-year institutions had high gap scores on three key issues about faculty bias and feedback.

Data from the 2014 National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Report (click to enlarge).

The issue of timely feedback could be partly one of managing student expectations. Many students have grown up in a culture of immediate contact, feedback, and information. They may not understand why they cannot get instantaneous feedback from faculty, so it is important to communicate timelines for posting grades and faculty feedback. Timely feedback is also crucial to student retention, both for informing the student of progress and for alerting campuses to students who need assistance to persist. The high importance scores and performance gaps for this issue suggest it is one campuses need to address systematically.
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Using content marketing to support higher education online marketing campaigns

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Content marketing gives colleges and universities new ways to engage prospective college students.

I recently presented a webinar on content marketing approaches for paid interactive marketing campaigns in higher education (I have another one coming up in January). The topic is one that I think will grow in importance for colleges as they try to reach prospective students who now expect more than just traditional advertising from campuses. This is the first in a series on this subject.

First, a bit of perspective on the difficulty defining the term “content marketing.” According to the most recent benchmark study of the Content Marketing Institute, 90 percent of business-to-consumer marketers use content marketing as a tactic. However, it’s interesting to note that they also find that only 34 percent of those using it feel that they are doing so effectively. I think this low percentage is evidence of a significant lack of clarity within the marketing universe—both outside of higher education  as well as within the higher ed marketing domain.

With that in mind, it makes sense to start this blog series with a very top-line perspective by defining what I mean when I refer to content marketing within the specific context of campus marketing and student recruitment. Since content marketing is a bit of an industry buzz term that means lots of things to lots of people, I find it often can be helpful in my campus consultations to narrow the definition so the teams I work with can really focus on specific tactics to pursue for their own schools.
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