The Use of Data in College Admission

In the world of college admission, data rules. Over the years as enrollment management (EM) became ever-more sophisticated, a plethora of datapoints have become commonplace as levers for institutional recruitment. Dashboards abound and there’s a lot at stake.  

The ethics of using these data sets in ways that benefit students is absolutely crucial. The key question for enrollment leaders should always be: Does what I’m doing benefit the student? Ideally, the answer will always be an emphatic ‘yes.’ However, there are a lot of gray areas in EM given the myriad aspects of recruitment.

One thing is for certain and that is that institutional data should never put students at a disadvantage for their individual admission. If there’s even a hint that this is occurring, it’s time to re-think, re-tool, and re-examine strategies. 

Through a Student Lens

Colleges use a variety of data-driven processes to inform their recruitment decisions. Name buys from standardized test providers, predictive modeling, and website behavior tracking are just some of the ways that schools are creating pools of data to try to reach prospective students.

Making sure that all of this data is aligned with a student-centric mindset is a major ethical concern. Institutions should start with questions such as:

  • Is this data source used in a way that considers the student’s best interest?
  • Can we articulate to students and parents how we use this information to benefit students?
  • At the end of the day, does this information put the student at a disadvantage?

For example, consider the name buying that happens each year. Some institutions purchase hundreds of thousands of names and then dump them into the top of their recruitment funnel. However, these students had just taken standardized tests. They hadn’t expressed interest in a particular school.

The fact that hundreds of schools are engaging in these same exact practices creates an ethical conundrum as hundreds of thousands of students are bombarded with admission materials that they did not request. It’s a waste of students’ time, a waste of institutional resources, and it most-definitely benefits the sellers of names much more than students.

When a college runs a student-centric recruitment process, name buys are far from being an ethically lead endeavor. Buying names and then sending unsolicited materials to students might expose students to schools with whom they were unfamiliar. However, isn’t it a better option to put students in the driver’s seat of their unique college search process?

Just because name buys have long-been the practice of higher ed admission departments doesn’t mean they are helpful to students. A mountain of recruitment material could easily overwhelm a student. Anything that potentially disengages or disadvantages students should be avoided at all costs. 

Adapting the process

Once institutions have evaluated the ways in which they gather data, they can then create processes which keep students’ best interests top-of-mind. Going forward, this will ensure that all communication to students will be easily understood. Keeping things clear rather than using insider jargon is a must. This is especially important for first generation and international students. Colleges should provide information that gives students a clear understanding of how to make a decision. Plus, schools need to make sure that they take the time to really understand what students want and need. 

When institutions use student-centric, ethically-driven recruitment processes, the end results provide better outcomes for students and high-quality results for admission departments. 

As has been stated in many of the Student-Centric Recruitment Framework posts, the information that students share should always guide future recruitment processes and strategy.

The Student-Centric Recruitment Framework

This post is the fifth in a series of six principles that will assist higher education institutions as they navigate the future of recruitment. The next blog post will be about how colleges drive student success. For more student-centric recruitment strategies, download the framework.

Topics Admissions and Enrollment Management
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