Why Research, Why Now, and Three Studies You Should Undertake Immediately

Becky Morehouse

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Too often, research is relegated to the categories of “when we have time”, or “when we have the money.”

Today’s dynamic and uncertain marketplace, however, suggests that this is an ideal time to conduct research and that your research dollars will return great and immediate benefit.

First, let me give you five reasons why I believe research is so critical, and then let me suggest three studies that you should undertake right now.

5 Reasons Research is Critical

1. Solid strategy rests on a foundation of solid, defendable research.

It is not an overstatement to say that any plan that does not include research at its base is almost surely flawed. It either will fail outright, deliver less than anticipated, or will take more time and money to execute.

With so many competing and ill-formed opinions, research provides certainty during these uncertain times.

Data on student interests, or even their predisposition to return to campus this fall, is a strong bulwark against a tide of opinions.

2. Research establishes credibility not only for you, but for your planning efforts.

Without solid research, it is likely that your conclusions will be challenged and confidence in your plan and activities undermined. This can negatively impact your leadership during this crisis and in the years that follow.

3. Research helps you make better choices. 

Rather than being stymied, a West Coast client wanted to know which of two potential academic programs would attract the most students. A survey of prospective students in the region, an analysis of competing colleges and their offerings, and an evaluation of short- and long-term job and employment trends provided the necessary data to help them decide.

4. Research helps you set priorities.

In today’s marketing, fund-raising, and recruiting environments, the problem is generally not a lack of options, but determining which option is most likely to succeed or provide the greatest return.

If you have $100,000 for a social media campaign aimed at nontraditional students, you can use research to pinpoint the messages and channels to which they will most likely respond.

5. Research lets you to test competing ideas.

You can use research to determine preference for different social media campaigns, publications, and even alumni magazine covers. Using research in this way can often prevent you from making expensive and very public mistakes before you launch.

This type of study, called an A-B split, is especially useful when testing different creative concepts or campaigns.

Three Studies

During the introduction I mentioned that I would suggest three studies you should undertake. Here they are:

1. Study determining the intentions of your current students.

Not only do you want to know if they plan to re-enroll, but under what conditions. For example, do they plan on returning to campus or do they plan to study online. Presently, the media is awash with colleges announcing their plans to reopen. What seems to be missing from the conversation, however, is how students and parents view this idea.

This information is critical for budgeting, staffing, and facilities planning and should be done immediately.

Note: See my blog on my thoughts about reopening your campus.

2. Nonmatriculant study.

Nonmatriculants, you will remember, are those students who applied, were accepted, and then chose not to enroll. Because of all the dollars and time you spent on these students, it is important to know why they opted out at the last minute.

Of course, Covid-19 may have influenced their decision. But there is every likelihood that other factors may be in play. Identifying those factors that you can change will have an immediate and positive impact on enrollment.

This study should be done in June-July.

3. Study directed at donors.

Recognizing that declining enrollment will lead to financial shortfalls, it stands to reason that many colleges will turn to donors to help cover their financial needs. Today’s donors, however, want to have a say in how their dollars will be used and under what circumstances. Making sure you are aware of their interests and concerns ahead of time can mean the difference between a campaign that succeeds and one that fails. 

This study should be done immediately.

Today’s dynamic and uncertain marketplace suggest that this is an ideal time to conduct research. Solid strategy rests on a foundation of solid, defendable research. Schedule a free consultation today.

Read next: See our blog on alternative revenue sources.

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