How Data Plays Matchmaker between Students and Colleges

In the book “College Unbound,” author Jeff Selingo observes that if online dating sites can “help two people fall in love based on a short questionnaire, we should be able to design a better method for matching students with colleges.”

Selingo’s observation highlights one of the biggest challenges that higher institutions face today: recruiting the right students. A 2014 survey of admissions directors conducted by Inside Higher Ed found that a majority did not meet their admissions goals by May of last year, and 79% of those surveyed said they’re concerned about meeting them this year, too. “The key issue is attracting enough suitable applicants (and those who will accept admissions offers), not sifting through hundreds of qualified applicants per spot,” reports Inside Higher Ed.

Meanwhile, the average cost of recruiting just one undergraduate at a private, four-year college exceeds $2,400. A college may spend this money even when a student chooses to go somewhere else, or accepts but doesn’t complete a degree—perhaps because it wasn’t a good match from the beginning.

It’s a big problem, and the only way it can be solved is with better data. In conversations with both customers and prospective customers, we’ve heard time and again about the pressures school administrators face to back up their decisions with good information, and the solution lies in finding ways to use both their own data and external data sources to recruit students. Using a data-driven approach, institutions can better target and recruit students that are more likely to accept their admissions offers and persist at institutions to achieve their desired academic outcomes, whether it be a professional certificate or a four-year degree.

How Data Plays Matchmaker Between Students and Colleges Our Workday Student team is constantly thinking about the power of data and the best and easiest ways to get it into the hands of higher education. Workday Student Recruiting, which became available last year, helps our customers leverage data to better create and manage recruiting campaigns and strategies, and also analyze their spend on campaigns. They can use it to gauge campaign effectiveness based on quantifiable data about specific targeted students, and then track progress against their institutions’ strategic objectives.

We’re continuing to do a lot of work in this area to help customers solve recruitment challenges and meet admissions goals, by gaining insights from the historical data in their student systems combined with data from admissions applications and outside sources, such as the National Student Clearinghouse. With this robust information, an institution could answer a variety of questions about the students it’s been recruiting and those who are successful at its institution. For example: What’s the average GPA or academic index of successful students? Where are they coming from? How much is it costing to reach them? Institutions could then use all these data points to start targeting the right students—maybe it’s women for their STEM programs or piano prodigies for their music departments—as well as to determine who is most likely to persist and succeed in their programs. This is exciting stuff we’ve been working on, and I’m looking forward to sharing more about it in the near future.

Modern technology approaches, including advanced analytics capabilities, are essential for helping institutions make sure they are pursuing the right students based on cultural fit, students’ goals, and institutional objectives. The more institutions succeed at finding these meant-to-be students, the more they’ll be able to make a difference across the entire spectrum of institutional and student success, from recruitment and revenue to student satisfaction and job placement.