Why Your University Should Be Tracking Big Data

Everything is becoming computerized. So much of what we experience now takes place in a virtual world, from shopping and dating to registering at a university, and it’s all trackable. Call it Orwellian if you like, but the availability of this data is extremely useful for marketing professionals.

Never before has there been such a wealth of information about alumni, students and prospective students available as now. Marketers can pinpoint which parts of their advertising are working accurately, and which parts aren’t. They can find out the kind of people who are responding and understand which demographics are most engaged. This enables them to focus their efforts on the correct market.

Despite these advantages, not that many universities are currently using big data to its full potential. If an institution has been using the same software for years, it may not have the capacity to deal with the amount of big data available. Even if universities do have this capacity, they might not understand how to analyze what can often seem to be an overwhelming amount of statistics effectively.

But, as more and more universities begin utilizing it, the disadvantages in ignoring its potential become increasingly obvious. Big data is invaluable for a successful marketing strategy, and here’s why:

It can help with recruitment

Universities spend thousands each year advertising to prospective students, and much of this will not be effective. It’s not necessarily because the strategy or campaign was flawed, but simply because it wasn’t targeted at a demographic that was specific enough.

Big data can help universities to narrow their audience, and focus their advertising solely onto the most interested and engaged groups. This will ensure that the time they’re putting into their marketing strategies is as beneficial as possible.

By enabling marketers to split their audience into specific groups, it becomes easier to analyse and understand which material works best with which group. The number of filters which can be placed on data is vast, so there’s very little restriction on how to divide an audience!

Geo-locating allows universities to understand where their audience is based; which city, country or region is most engaged with their marketing and which types of advertising are most popular there. This gives universities the ability to tailor their content to specific areas and time zones.

Big data also makes it a lot simpler to establish a picture of their typical user. From age, to gender and language, it allows marketers to understand how specific variables affect the success of their campaigns.

It’s a useful tool for assessing applicants

Universities offer places to students they believe will do well. The data now available allows them to not only look at interviews, applications and exam results, but also to examine the statistical chances of them succeeding.

Additionally, universities can scrape social media data to form a picture of a prospective student, and make their recruitment choices based on a clearer image of an individual.

This might all sound a bit cynical, but it’s something a lot of universities are doing. On the most competitive courses, social media analysis can be a good way of establishing the likelihood of a candidate being a good investment.

It can help reduce dropout rates

Forget recruitment for a minute and consider retention. Students dropping out of university is a big issue – teaching hours and investment are wasted, and class sizes shrink. Not to mention any resulting drop in funding for the remaining years of the degree.

Big data can help universities to curb dropout rates. The University of Huddersfield, for example, uses analytics to help retain students who are experiencing issues. By collecting and analysing attendance and results data, and comparing it to a database, they can automatically target those students who may be struggling. Depending on the severity of the situation, automated responses can run from a simple email to a personalised action plan for those most in need and have led to dropout rates falling by several percentage points.

Is it ethical?

While big data can be a major benefit to universities, there are ethical issues tied to it. There’s been considerable debate about how much access companies (and the government, for that matter) should have to our personal data and, more importantly, how they should be using it.

To avoid any ethical issues, it’s therefore vital that universities set up codes regulating how they use any information gathered from students. And crucially, that they ensure students understand how their data is being used.

 To get started with analyzing data, why not read our whitepaper ‘introduction to Google Analytics?’

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