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The Student in the Machine

    Big data and student recruitment

    A recent article in Times Higher Education addressed big data and student recruitment. A very timely article. During the recent US election campaign, President Donald Trump spent considerably more of his budget on big data voter research (this is not polling) than Hillary Clinton. Some of his money went to Cambridge Analytica whose clients have included the UK Ministry of Defence, the US State Department, and NATO to name a few.

    We have written in the past about the various ways schools are marketing to an ever smaller number of students. Social media and mobile marketing have become ever more fine tuned towards winning the annual recruitment drives of schools both large and small. Like any dwindling resource, technology is being turned to as the marketing becomes ever more granular. We have turned to Fracking in the search for natural gas. We have Quants and automated buy/sell software to profit from minute changes in currencies. We save water from our clothes dryers to water our plants. And now we turn to big data to understand and use real-time student behaviour in order to win them for our school.

    The rise of this technology will certainly seperate the winners from the losers, especially in higher education where administration is often painfully slow to adapt. Technology is not culturally agnostic – everyone will need to get on board and understand how to use technology in a way that is best for their school.

    “Taking a big data and predictive analytics approach to enrolling international students will require a shift in culture and administrative mind-sets. Push-backs are inevitable. Most often, a university’s culture will eat innovation for breakfast …” (from the Times Higher Education article)

    While schools with the budgets and mind to use big data to win students will certainly in the long term win out over those who do not, does not mean there are not countless tools and methods available for schools without the budget (but with the mind) to “market smart”. We have very often found that clients do not use most of those tools or workflows which are available to them. Google and social media analytics offer a free and immediate insight into how your online content is interacting with students – and that when, where, and how often. Couple this with strategic placement of content, leveraged across your platforms, and you have a very flexible and usable “small” big data model.

    It is surprising how many school administrators are still not aware of their web analytics, or of the basic workflows necessary for effective content placement – let alone include their IT team in marketing strategy meetings. If you eat all the innovation for breakfast, you will have nothing left over for lunch. For student recruitment, it is already high noon.