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9 Benchmarks that Inform How a Student Chooses a School

man pointing to yes, no, maybe buttons

When faced with choosing between two institutions, how does a student make the decision about which college or university to attend? It's a combination of factors, according to a new report from Eduventures, the research arm of NRCCUA. Understanding those factors, according to the report, can help schools better prepare for changes in levels of student interest and influence the outcomes.

Researcher Kim Reid, an Eduventures principal analyst and author of the report, used data on nearly 76,000 students drawn from the company's "2018 Survey of Admitted Students." Each student had to make an enrollment choice between at least two schools and provided information and ratings about their ultimate enrollment choice and the next one in line. That analysis allowed Reid to produce an institution-level dataset with 151,676 sets of ratings for 1,383 four-year public and private nonprofit schools. (For-profits were left out of the analysis.)

From there, the research resulted in the development of "benchmarks" that institutions can use to "inform recruitment, yield and brand strategy." Those benchmarks covered nine areas:

  • Student mindsets, and specifically the share of students who belonged to each of six mindset categories identified by Eduventures. This benchmark can tell institutions which type of student chooses the school (for example, career pragmatist versus grad-school bound), whether they fit the student profile the school wants to attract, and whether there are other mindsets that would also be good fits;
  • Decision segments, or what among the various criteria for choosing a school — cost, reputation, career outcomes, etc. — was most important;
  • First choice, which indicated the level of commitment the student had coming into the school and whether the decision designated the choice as a "destination brand," a "safety school" or a signal that the student could decide to transfer out or fail to persist;
  • Destination, which showed where non-enrolling students were attending school, categorized by Carnegie classification and in-state versus out-of-state status;
  • Distance, measuring the number of miles between a student's home zip code and location of the school where they enrolled;
  • Brand constructs, how students rated their schools in multiple areas, including affordability, diversity, community feel and level of quality;
  • Quality perception gap, which showed how enrolling students compared to students who chose not to enroll in their perceptions of quality for such reasons as overall reputation, strength of program and job opportunities for graduates;
  • Communications, measuring the use of various components of enrollment outreach, including websites, publications, social media, campus visits and admitted student events; and
  • Net cost comparisons, showing the portion of students choosing to attend an institution with a lower, equal or higher net cost than the inquiring institution.

"Taken together, these nine benchmarks can help an institution examine its own survey of admitted student results," the report noted.

As Reid noted in her conclusion, "In the end, knowing whether or not your institution's admitted students behave like all admitted students in your category or whether you have idiosyncratic behaviors will help you craft and prioritize the enrollment strategies you need to be successful."

The report, "The Survey of Admitted Students," is available to Eduventures member institutions.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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