The Dow Jones of Higher Ed

Feb 12, 2018


It’s been a bumpy ride over the last week for the stock market. Watching everyone freak out as the market goes through an anticipated correction reminds me of a report that clients ask for as we begin almost every higher education analytics engagement: The Daily Registration Report.

The report essentially consists of a daily count of registrations leading up to start of term. The better versions may include a column showing what enrollment looked like on that day last year or provide a breakdown by campus location or key student types.

ASR has a bold request for everyone currently relying on this report: Please stop.

How is a daily report helping you manage your enrollment management process? Does it help you make better decisions or is it still in existence because “that’s how we have always done it”? Just like fretting over the Dow Jones on a daily basis, obsessing over The Daily Registration Report is not helping your institution meet its goals.

To better understand your enrollment patterns, consider the following:

Put away the eye chart. A report that grows into a 150-row by 15-column table is not easy to digest for anyone. Use a trend-based registration report to look at your enrollment at key points in time – two weeks after the start of registration, one month after the start of registration, two weeks before start of term, etc. It is fine if these numbers change daily (and a sound warehouse should capture daily data changes), but they shouldn’t be presented daily in a mammoth table.


Are you comparing apples to apples, or apples to rutabagas? If you are comparing year over year with static dates, did registration start approximately the same time every year? Are you looking at dates relative to start of term or relative to start of registration? Major holidays and weather-related closures can cause day-to-day blips that would ultimately be unremarkable in a broader trend analysis.


What does the trend mean, and what action are you going to take based on the information? Is the economy improving generally and more people are getting jobs instead of going to school? Is there new industry in your area, and many people in your community are finding new work? If so, maybe there are more certifications you can offer that appeal to people who already have jobs and are looking to improve their skills. Do you have a competitor nearby who is draining your applicant pool? If so, what are their tactics? Are they more affordable? Are their programs better aligned to community need?

If you’re looking at the Dow for guidance every day, then you are making one of two bad choices: Deciding to buy and sell mutual funds within your retirement plan according to daily losses and gains (yikes!); or obsessing over those daily losses and gains, yet doing absolutely nothing about it.

Similarly, a daily view of your registrations is not going to engender effective action. Act based on a narrative of the data trend. Identify a number of actions you will take (student outreach, social media strategies, etc.) relative to performance in the past…and take them! Finally, after you take the action, measure its effectiveness. If it works, great, if not try something else. Test and confirm or reject the hypothesis, take action, iterate.

The purpose of any business intelligence content (reports, dashboards, analytics, etc.) is to provide members of your institution information that will help you take data-informed actions. Data for data’s sake is just noise. It is no different from obsessing over a correction in the stock market that involved unrealized losses on money you may not need for years to come.