Turn Information into Insights with Structured Data

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Peter Shafer, EVP of Sales and Marketing at Everest Communications, joins the podcast to talk about the hidden value higher ed is sitting on because too many of us haven’t structured our unstructured data yet.

You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect Edu podcast network. I'm Eric Olson with Helix Education and we're here today with Peter Shaffer, evp of sales and marketing at Everest Communications. Peter, welcome to the show. Thanks Arek very much to be here. Great to have you here and really excited to talk with you to day about turning information into insights with structured data. But before we dig in, can you give listeners a little background on both yourself and Everest Communications? Sure, Everest Communications is a small Boutique PR and reputation management firm based in Washington DC. We work with all different types of clients, including colleges and universities, on reputational issues, branding, communicating with various key stakeholder audiences, those types of things. My background is actually in both public relations but also in polling and market research and data structuring. I worked for Galla Pole. Harris Pole had been CEO of a research company which was part of inner public group, and then also had worked on this the the media side, where it's actually taking that data and using it in public forums, whether it's on television, radio, in the traditional media outlets, or using it actually in white papers and other different academic journals. So I've written extensively on the topic of how to get the most out of data and so with this this hopefully will be a good discussion for for you and for us. Well, let's dive right in then, Peter, to kick us off, talk about the hidden value higher ed maybe sitting on because too many of us haven't structured are unstructured data yet. Yeah, and that's a great point. Eric. One of the things that I've told many college presidents that we've worked with over the years is that they sit on a gold mine and they just don't know it. And then when they realize the extensive level of detail and the extensive breadth of archives that they have, not only about different educational topics but also individuals, their alumni, their former professors, all these things, that they begin to start realizing the power of that network at or the potential power of that network, and what that data could potentially be turned into, whether it's through more engagement with the the college university itself, whether it's to get different messages out to key audiences, or whether it's just to raise money for, you know, either a particular program or or just in general, for general food. But it's been an awakening, I think, for a lot of people to realize that even just some of the data they've sat on for the last twenty years has an incredible amount of value and that...

...their counterparts in the private sector are already doing it and doing it rather successfully. Let's start walking through some of those used cases to get our creative juices flowing about how we can utilize this thought of our own campuses. Let's talk perspective students and making sure that our admissions models are truly predictive and correlative to our students academic preparation and success our institutions. Yeah, it's a great question and as a father of to high school senior in high school sophomore, it's a topic that this is thank you. It's a very, very dear question right now, or at least the topic two things strike me. Number one is that most colleges and universities are not equipped to do what we would call social media scraping on perspective students and in part of Evert business we get called in to do social media scraping on executives who are about ready to move to another position. But the same principles apply, is that as you look at students, and especially those that are in the areas that might have a specialty, you know, whether it's an honors college or you know the school finance or something like that, is that there's a lot that you can learn from the social media habits of those perspective students, and not necessarily that they're always predictive or that that behavior is always predictive, but it is. It is and it can be used as an indicator. The second area is that, and this is one thing that I think drives parents crazy, is that all the different colleges have nuances for what they want or some of the in nations the data that they want to gather, and sometimes it's asked for without context. So I think in terms of where the university ors or the colleges are looking at the admissions application and the data within it. What is it that they can either standardize more or assign different values to so that they can be more consistent and then, as you mentioned, more predictive in what they're going to be able to do with that data? In one of the things that you know, I know, especially with colleges and universities now that are test optional. You know what that used to be of an easy calculation because those numbers had context. You could look at it historically, and now, without some of that data or that horse historical context, what is replacing that? And I don't think there's been a great answer to that yet. And and that I think is going to be an area that almost everybody's going to have to explore because it is so prominent these days. I think it's a great use case to think about. Actually, I think as some of our institutions started taking structure data more seriously, some of our institutions learned there wasn't a strong correlator between set act and academic preparation and GPA was a stronger one. But how do you know if your data is stuck in disparate data silos across the university? Peter, let's talk current students, so much data, so few insights. How can we better leverage this data to proactively intervene before a struggling student starts to give up? Two things on that Eric One is that I'm continually Super Prize by how much data students are sharing voluntarily about how they're...

...actually coping or how their study habits are impacting the way they work. And I think the one area that I would suggest that is ripe for looking at even more deeply is that when the students are entering different information into the portal, into whatever portal that the college is using, using sentiment analysis, for example, to just pick up patterns in the way they describe how and what's happening within the class or what their's assignments are, and that's usually a pretty rudimentary way to start picking up where a student might be struggling or where a student might have issues that they might not necessarily verbalize, but you could start seeing the patterns early on. You could also see the patterns, I think, more in the aggregate, for example, if there is a particular subject area where a group of students is struggling and that they need maybe more assistance or more help or more tutorials around different things. You know, the clustering of those types of data, both qualitative and quantitative, often times leads to change. The second area, though, that I think is really interesting in regard to how to measure progress, or at least to have those early morning systems, is that almost all of the systems that I've seen, or at least all the data collection has been one way meeting the student, sends it back to the faculty or sends it back to the staff, and and that it is then incumbent upon that staff and that faculty can to sort through it. But almost all these platforms allow for the faculties and to reach out as well. So if there is and I know that the faculty have got seven million things on their plate, you know. But but in one regard that mechanism allows them to also start other pieces of information that might signal that hey, this person is off track or whatever. But usually it's a combination of quantitative and qualitative. I quite frankly, I just think that there's not been as much science applied to all this new data to say hey, look, if we see this pattern, this person is struggling, or if we see this pattern, this person really needs to have somebody intervene and seek out help, and I think that's probably the next frontier, is to really start data mining that information that we gather from students and see where it heads. And of course, the activity on social media. You know you might be able to pick up some there, but that's a little bit of a different animal in regard to data collection, but also data monitoring. I remember one of our partners, probably seven years ago or so, was really proud about how progressive their faculty were about reaching out in terms of when a mid term grade came back and they saw student failing, the faculty would make a personalized outreach and they're really proud of that. And our chief academic officer kindly said, Oh, if that's when you're reaching out, you're already eight weeks too late. They mentally checked out. And so it's this concept of good intentions. We care so deoply about our students. How do we utilize data science well, to combine the mission with the Science? Yeah, and you know,...

...it's interesting and I that I think in one regard, the structuring of how you collect data, it's going to change as well, and so I think, you know, it may be where a faculty and certain professors or whatever are now actually doing assignments in bursts or in maybe a more consistent way across the semester, simply to get a better handle on where the students are in regards. You know, and I this is a very oversimplification, so I apologize. You know, it's like the old pop quiz question, you know, it's like a we'll see where everybody is right now. But I do think that, especially with the way online works now, is that there's an a d personalization of it where a faculty member might have been able to see it in a classroom environment, might have been able to see it in a one on one meeting or something like that, but now they're relying on this, you know, and it could be a bigger set of data, but the relying on it more to maybe be our pick up the key indicators that that may, you know, may just, quite frankly, be hidden in the data and not as visible as it would be in person. Let's talk about the other end of the student life cycle, our alumni. What data, what insights, might help us better understand how to, for one example, prioritize our advancement outreach yeah, that's a great question. I was actually working on a project last year around this. The number one is that there's no magic it to it. Number two is that a lot of the new technologies and in reaching out to alums have done one good thing, and that is get more alumni voices heard. But it's also clouded how you interpret and how you funnel some of those pieces of information back, because now everything looks like a priority because you talked to those Soandsoanso and so. An interesting I got my son went to the university South Carolina and I'm on their mailing list and I just got a notification that now I'm going to be getting text messages from the alumni office all the time. So you know, all those different technologies are great in terms of keeping touch. The one thing that I would say, though, is this, and I've noticed this with a lot of advancement offices, is that they have been using old style marketing questions to try to gather this new information without really asking where the alumni are in regard to their journey in not only being an alum but also on their dirty with some of these technologies, and I know, for example, one of the colleges that I worked with. They have a separate career center software that they use that's outside of the alumni and development group and those software don't talk to each other. The two division zone talk to each other. And yet career development and career paving is one of the most important parts of the alumni relations and advancement function. So, you know, it's just kind of taking your step back and think, okay, what is it that we really need to piece together to make the alumni experience rants one that's both fulfilling and and also one...

...that's engaging enough for me to stay involved, because, you know, ten years ago I may have been involved in five things. Today I'm involved in fifteen things, so I have more choices and I think the alumni offices that I've seen that are doing this really well are are, number one, catering to the specific communication need of the particular alumni groups that they have, and the second is that they've been using the data that they have in a more robust way to segment or redefine what some of those key audiences are. And going back to what we were talking about earlier, there was a university of was working with about two years ago, I actually three years ago, on implementing a new CEO crm system and they were struggling with it. They had rustled around with it internally and I said, I'm certain that you've probably got a million alumni who are working on tales force or working on some you know, crm. Can you just put out a plea to say, Hey, look, can we all, you know, meet for two hours on a zoom call to talk about the best practices and the DOS and don'ts of how crm works? And they had wild response from that and so it helped. It helped them refocus their efforts on. Okay, what they did do we need to collect in the CRM? And I know that I'm using crm more in any kind of a Broadway, but it really helped then get a better understanding for not only what data they were collecting, but also explaining to alumni how they were going to use it. How they we're going to use it for fundraising, how they we're going to use it for volunteer opportunities, how they're going to use it for career development, and it became a more robust project from what and and now I'm not participation at that university is up about thirty seven percent. Wow, I love those use cases. The one that made me think of is slightly selfish, but I moved to the San Diego area a few years back and we didn't have an existing network here or family, and I remember thinking way, I wonder where my where my alumni networks are, and I tried very lightly to figure out how to connect with my undergraduate alma mater as well as my graduate Alma Mater in terms of finding San Diego alumni networks, and it was very hard. I couldn't figure out how to do it. I kind of figured out how to do it myself on Linkedin. But what an opportunity for your alma mater to be a hero and to be your networking partner, and I'm sure they'd love to do that, but nothing's paying them when they said, Hey, one of your grads just moved to San Diego. Connect them. And so how can our data systems improve to help make these little magical things happen? Yeah, and you know, in some regard it's as simple as I use this example. You mentioned linkedin. Every just simple is, if you can do it on Linkedin, why can't you do it on the alumni site as well, and I think that sometimes some of the rules and, you know, some of the policies go to the extreme. But you know, I had to similar situation right had to go to Madison Wisconsin, called my Alma water's alumni office and said Hey, look, I'm looking for, you know, just to have a dinner or, you know, drink with and and I wound up running into...

...a classmate of mind who I hadn't seen since I graduated. And so you know, there are these ways that this can be used effectively. I think you know it's schools, because of budget pressure and even because of some of the other things that they're being pulled to to focus on. You know that they are. This becomes less of a priority because it seems more clerical than it is strategic. And I think in some regard any times you can build a relationship or have a better relationship building process, you're going to be in a better position strategically. But you know, I have a I've seen that happen all too often, is that it's defined as a clerical activity, not a strategic activity. You've hinted at this a couple times now when we're talking about the magic of data. We're also getting closely to the concerns of the privacy of data and there's this balance of look at all we can do with data versus do students want us to do this with our data, with their data? How do you think about that broader challenge? It's a really, really great question, Eric. I look at it from three particular areas. The first is a question than that is, what permissions do we have to use this data and do we need to get additional permissions to use this data? And and in some cases just asking to use it is is enough. But you know, I think that a lot of schools have gone to opposite extremes on it. They're either, you know, it's a wide open system or it's so closed down that nobody can use it. The second is to take a really of a hard look at what are those primary pieces of information that we just can't live without and that we need to fill in the gaps. And if we did fill in those gaps, how transformational it would be. And I've even noticed in, you know, databases that exist across university systems, is that they may have four or five different profiles of the same person and oftentimes those profiles don't necessarily match up. So sometimes it's a matter of just making those things match up and agreeing that this is the way we're going to look at it and then this is how we're going to use the data going forward. But the third is, I think, with the way the data has evolved in terms of not only the volume of it but also the ability to manipulate it, is that there are better techniques or better ways to query these types of databases to begin to look at different groups or different organizations or different pockets of people in a new and fresh way, and I think that is where the best opportunities are, especially around privacy. Is that, what is it that we can do to not only protect our you know, our students are lams, are perspective students or whatever, but also how can we help them give us the data that we would need to do our jobs better so that they have a more enhanced experience? And I that's, I think, the area right now that's right for investigation and nobody has, I think, struck on it really really they haven't struck oil yet, but I think in some some of the colleges and University of seen or getting closer...

...to it, and that's that's a good time. Let's dig into the getting closer to it. We've talked about the magic of the insights we can get when we have access to this data. We've talked about the challenge of why we don't have access to this data. Let's talk about those next steps in terms of data governance, in terms of who should, who does own this problem, in terms of who we need to hire. What are those next steps? It's a complicated question, but you just mentioned something that I think is important to establish up front, and that is who owns this data, and in almost every case that the university owned the data, whether they whether they think so or not, and with that comes from responsibilities and and you know, around privacy, certainly about data protection, you know, being able to protect individuals information. But I think the steps that I've seen that have been most effective, at least in the short term, is number one, that there is, at a strategic level, either at the board or at the faculty leadership level, a data committee that is formed. That isn't it driven necessarily. It's really around the data itself. You know, what do we have? I mean and doing data audits about where are we with this? What about this? And that's usually a pretty helpful exercise. This was amazing. I wizard, a small liberal arts college that has less than fifteen hundred students, and they had over a hundred and thirty five different social media sites with their name and it. Some that they own, some that they didn't own. So you know, but just the fact that they had a hundred thirty five was enough to kind of set off an alarm bell. That pay we need to take a look at this. You know. The third thing, I think, is really just appreciating what the value or just coming to an appreciation for the value of this data, not only for fundraising purposes or student recruitment and admissions purposes or whatever, but there is a lot of this data that helps form what the strategic plan of the college should or could be, and you know that as you as the students are evolving into different majors and things like that. You know, are there internships aligning with those majors? Are you know, are we doing enough in regard to partnerships with other institutions or other organizations that would allow us to, you know, pursue an additional major? So, for example, you know, the small. If a small liberal arts college partners with a larger university to offer that joint you know, what data can that small university bring to the big university to say hey, look, here's the profile of our students, here's a profile of our faculty, Here's what the rigor you know, and I think we don't think about data. We think about the story, but we don't think about the data points that go into that story that frequently and I think that's that that set. Next level of investigation is to say, okay, you know, here are the important, the really important points. This, this jumped out of me in a meeting of is at a couple months ago with ahead of admissions they had when they looked at the five or six surrounding regions...

...where they, you know, where they were typically at drawn from, they were down over twenty seven percent in admissions and an applications from those particular areas. And what they realize was is that they had stopped advertising or they had stopped marketing in those six regions. And I'm like why? I mean that's where of the you know, and it's like Oh, shocking to see that result. And you know you're sitting there going like wait a minute, why? Why was that? And you know, they hadn't realized that the dropoff had been that significant in those six regions and it really kind of made them scratch their head a little bit like okay, what is it? I mean is this? What were the root causes? And basically what we found was that the admissions cadence and marketing was aimed outside of that to attract these other students from farther away and it just wasn't as effective as drawing people in from the six regions. So you know, but again and sometimes you know it's a gut feeling, but a lot of times a day will support maybe what that gut feeling is. Peters, thank you so much for your time today. What's the best place for listeners to reach out if they have any follow up questions? Sure the best way they reach me is either by email, which is Peter at Everest e, the arest comms CEO, mmscom, or they can call me at two hundred and two, two, three six for five two two, or text me. You know, either way I am. I'm on Linkedin as Pete Shafer, so you would findable there as well. Awesome, Peter. Thanks so much for joining us today. Eric has do a lot of fun. Thank you very much, and then thank you for the great question. To really appreciate it. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcom. Playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show on Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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