Gathering Data from Nonmatriculating Students

Becky Morehouse

Becky Morehouse

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Nonmatriculating students may be the most important target audience for quantitative research. You’ve made the investment to get them this far and, for whatever reason(s), they have eschewed your school for another. Too frequently, the students you’ve so heavily invested in slip away and you never have a full—and actionable—understanding of why.

If you’re interested in gathering systematic feedback, here are some helpful pointers:

  • Sampling: Most institutions will use the entire pool as their base. Even with the full population as the base, you must be realistic about the number of expected completes. A typical response rate for this audience is at best around 20% (for telephone fieldwork and much lower for web or postal methods). For example, if you have 1,000 nonmatriculants, a reasonable goal would be 200 completed interviews. However, if you have just 500, a sample of 75 to 100 would be more likely.
  • Timing: The best time to conduct these studies is shortly after you get the final word on students’ choices. This most often falls during the early summer months. The window is narrow and requires persistence in order to get as many completed surveys as possible before the students pack up for orientation at their selected institution. This will require numerous attempts and, likely, list exhaustion in order to garner a sufficient sample.
  • Comparing: Budget permitting, it’s wise invest in a side-by-side comparison between matriculants and nonmatriculants. Using the same instrument and conducting the fieldwork at the same time for both audiences allows meaningful comparisons and highlights key differences for those who chose you and those who didn’t.
  • Instrument: Ask the biggest question (“Why them and not us?”) of course, but ask it in different ways several times. Include specifics of particular interest in close-ended questions, but mix with open-ended questioning to get additional insight and spontaneous thoughts about key areas as well.
  • Fieldwork: This study is labor-intensive. Although the study can be completed via the web or postal mail, response rates and representativeness will suffer. To gain control over the sample size and composition, a phone survey is the most efficient method. Typically, every name on the list will be need to be contacted several times in order to achieve the sample.

Final thought: If you don’t do any other marketing research studies this year, this would be the one you should do.

I recently presented a 30-minute webinar on the importance of gathering data from your nonmatriculating students. Let us know as soon as possible if you’re interested in conducting this study for your institution.

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