Ellis Simon

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Gray Associates Reports 10 Percent Inquiry Jump for October, Fastest Since Tracking Began

Posted by Ellis Simon on Dec 14, 2018 3:30:00 PM

Inquiries for higher education programs rose 10 percent year-over-year in October, according to Gray Associates, a higher education strategy consulting firm.  The gain was the largest since the firm began tracking the data in 2015.

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Topics: Higher Education


September Higher Ed Inquiries Rose 2 Percent, Reports Gray Associates

Posted by Ellis Simon on Nov 21, 2018 9:39:14 AM

Inquiry volume for higher education rose two percent year-over-year in September, reports Gray Associates, a higher education strategy consulting firm.  Inquiries are now higher for the most recent five months.

“After several years of decline, it is gratifying to see monthly results come in ahead of last year, indicating somewhat stronger demand for higher education,” said Gray Founder and CEO Robert Atkins.  "Higher inquiry volume could be indicative of a resurgence of demand for some for-profit programs since these institutions rely more on inquiries than public and independent non-profit colleges and universities," he added.

An inquiry is a prospective student’s request for information about an academic program or institution prior to submitting an application.  Gray tracks inquiry volume as part of its Program Evaluation System, which colleges and universities use to make decisions about which programs to Start, Stop, Sustain or Grow.

October National Inquiries

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Topics: Higher Education


Balancing ‘Mission and Money’:  Using Program Margins to Fund the Mission

Posted by Ellis Simon on Oct 24, 2018 4:45:05 PM

“Understanding program margins enables colleges to direct funds from high-contribution programs to smaller programs that may lose money.  These planned cross-subsidies help colleges fund and assert their mission,” according to Dr. William Massy, an emeritus Stanford University faculty member and administrator.  "But, many colleges and universities struggle to balance mission and money for academic programs because they do not have systems to track program economics.” Dr. Massy said.  

To help colleges understand the economics of their academic programs, Gray Associates, a higher-education consulting firm, developed a SaaS solution to calculate contribution margins by program, course, and instructor.  Dr. Massy and Bob Atkins, CEO of Gray Associates, introduced the new service on a conference call on September 11, 2018.  “From a financial perspective, a program is the sum of the courses taken by students in a given major,” Mr. Atkins explained.  “We collect revenue data, including tuition, fees, and grants, at the student level, as well as faculty salaries and other direct costs by course.  Then, we combine the revenue and costs for courses taken by each student in a major.  This enables our systems to track revenue, direct instructional cost, and contribution margin by student, course, department, and campus.”

"What we found," said Mr. Atkins, "Is that most programs have positive contribution margins.  So schools need a better measure of success:  they need a comparison with their other programs and with the same program at other schools."  To make valid comparisons, schools need to use a common denominator that can put large programs on a similar footing with smaller programs.

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Topics: Higher Education


Higher Ed Inquiry Volume Improves in Five Largest Cities

Posted by Ellis Simon on Aug 29, 2018 12:26:00 PM

Inquiry volumes improved in June for the five largest U.S. cities, according to Gray Associates, a higher education consulting firm.  In three of the five cities, inquiries were higher, year-over-year, while in the two other cities the rate of decline slowed.

An inquiry is a prospective student’s request for information about an academic program or institution prior to applying.  Gray tracks inquiry volume as part of its Program Evaluation System, used by colleges and universities to make strategic decisions regarding which academic programs to Start, Stop, Sustain or Grow.

The strongest showing was in Los Angeles, where inquiry volume rose 17 percent after dropping eight percent from June 2016 to June 2017.  Philadelphia and Chicago reported gains of eight percent and five percent, respectively.  A year ago, inquiries declined 13 percent in both markets.

The weakest showing was for New York, where inquiries fell by six percent year-over-year for June, a slight improvement over the seven percent decrease a year ago.  Inquiry volume for Houston fell one percent, but vastly outperformed 2017, when inquiries dropped 26 percent.

Updated Cities

Results for Five Largest Programs Mixed; Criminal Justice and Nursing Fall, while Medical Assistant and Healthcare Administration Increase

Three of the five largest programs had lower inquiry volume in June while the other two saw increases.  The biggest decline was for Criminal Justice, down 70 percent, year-over-year.  Registered Nursing fell 16 percent and Business Administration dropped one percent.  Inquiries rose 64 percent for Medical Assistant and 13 percent for Healthcare Administration.

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Topics: Higher Education


Inquiries for Online Higher Education Programs Are Rising Fast in a Down Market.

Posted by Ellis Simon on Aug 24, 2018 9:10:00 AM

Inquiry Volume for Online Higher Education Programs Are Higher for All Three Months of the Second Quarter

Overall, enrollment in higher education institutions has been declining for several years.  In this gloom, there are a few bright spots, and one is demand for online programs.  Student inquiries for higher education programs at colleges and universities rose eight percent year-over-year in June, according to Gray Associates, a higher education consulting firm.  June was the third consecutive month to see higher volume.  Inquiries were up four percent for April and seven percent for May.

An inquiry is a prospective student’s request for information about an academic program or institution prior to submitting an application.  Gray tracks inquiry volume as part of its Program Evaluation System (PES), used by colleges and universities to make strategic decisions regarding which academic programs to Start, Stop, Sustain or Grow.

Growth was driven entirely by inquiries for online programs, which were higher in five of the first six months of 2018.  Inquiries for on-campus programs fell 18 percent in June and have declined for the first six months of 2018 and for all of 2017.

Inquiries for Online Programs Blog

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Topics: Higher Education


Google Searches for Higher Education Programs Continue to Decline

Posted by Ellis Simon on Aug 21, 2018 3:50:15 PM

Google searches for higher education programs and institutional brands continue to fall, reports Gray Associates, a higher education consulting firm.

Searches for programs were off four percent, year-over-year, for the first six months of 2018.  In June, the most recent month for which complete data is available, searches were three percent lower.

Searches are a predictor of future enrollment levels.  Search volume is one of more than 40 critical program data elements that are incorporated into Gray's Program Evaluation System (PES), used by colleges and universities to make decisions on which programs to Start, Stop, Sustain, or Grow.

Gray tracks Google searches for the 200 largest higher education programs in the IPEDS (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System) database and uses 25 keywords for each program.  These 200 programs combined account for 67 percent of program completions.

Google Searches - 200 Largest Academic Programs

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Topics: Higher Education


Gray Associates to Launch Program Economics at National Association of College and Business Officers (NACUBO) Annual Meeting

Posted by Ellis Simon on Jul 13, 2018 11:05:00 AM

Program Economics from Gray Associates

Gray now has the capability to help you evaluate the markets for academic programs – and their economics.  Many higher education institutions do not know the costs, revenue, or margin of their academic programs. As a result, institutional leaders must make programmatic decisions without a clear understanding of the effects on their college’s financials.  Potential misunderstandings can hurt financial performance by closing programs only to find that the lost revenue exceeds the cost savings, or by growing programs that have high incremental costs but average tuition.

Gray's Program Economics will address these potential misconceptions by estimating and tracking program profitability.  Access to Program Economics, a SaaS tool from Gray, will enable colleges and universities to realize the contribution margin by program for each of the following metrics:

  • Revenue by course and program
  • Direct costs by course and program
  • Indirect costs allocable to each program
  • Contribution margin percentages and dollars by program
Program Selection and Assessment
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Topics: Higher Education


Google Searches Fall While Inquiries Rise, Muddling Higher Education Demand Outlook, Gray Associates Reports

Posted by Ellis Simon on Jul 10, 2018 8:25:16 AM

Has demand for higher education finally turned the corner or is it continuing to decline?  The answer is not immediately clear, because two key data sets used to measure demand are at odds, reports Gray Associates, a Massachusetts-based strategy consulting firm focused on higher education.

While Google search volume fell, year-over-year, for May, inquiry volume was higher.  Inquiries are requests for information about specific programs that are compiled by online aggregators and marketing agencies.  A segment of these inquiries are sold to colleges and universities as qualified leads.

Both are indicators of current demand by location, but they have different functions.  Google search volume indicates overall market interest by program; Inquiry volume data is used to assess demand for specific programs and award levels.  Gray also incorporates IPEDS completion data, which is reported annually, as a lagging indicator of student demand.

Inquiry volume had been dropping for several years, noted Gray Founder and CEO Robert Atkins.  However, it was higher or flat for four of the first five months of 2018.

“The decline in inquiries seems to be slowing, but, unfortunately, the decline in Google searches is not,” said Mr. Atkins.  “We have a little bit of disparity in trends between the two data sources, which would suggest that, while the trend may be less bad than it used to be, it would be premature to be optimistic that we are going to start growing.”

Gray has been tracking inquiries since 2012 and Google searches since 2016.  We reported a four percent year-over-year increase in inquiry volume for May, following a one percent rise for April, but a seven percent drop for March.

Google search volume for programs of instruction was down three percent (see chart below), year-over-year, in May while brand searches fell six percent.  Both program searches and brand searches for the first five months of 2018 are five percent below 2017.  Gray tracks search volume for the 200 largest higher education programs and for a sample of 75 higher education brands.
Google Searches for Higher Education Programs copy

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Topics: Higher Education


Institutions Must Invest in Excellence to Sustain Enrollment in Face of Weak Student Demand, Gray Associates Reports

Posted by Ellis Simon on Apr 25, 2018 4:00:00 PM

Inquiry and Google Search Volume Decline for March 2018, Pointing to Lower Demand 

Colleges and universities must invest in “academic excellence” if they want to withstand declining student demand and sustain – or grow – their enrollment.  “Growth without academic excellence is not only difficult, it may be impossible,” Robert Atkins, CEO of Gray Associates, a higher education consulting firm, told participants in the firm’s most recent monthly webcast on demand trends in higher education, held Thursday, April 20.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), between 2010 and 2016 college enrollment dropped from 21.6 million to 20.2 million, a 6.5 percent decline.  This has led many institutions to cut expenses and, in some cases, lay off faculty and/or staff.  More than 400 colleges and universities, mostly in the for-profit sector, closed last year.  Other schools have attempted to wrest market share from the competition by increasing advertising budgets.

However, cost cutting and advertising are not sufficient to turn around struggling institutions.  “You need to make a sustained investment in the quality of the education you provide, which, in turn, will help you attract students at a lower cost than brute force marketing,” Mr. Atkins said, adding that schools need to make their programs better and differentiate them in an increasingly competitive market.

To a large degree, their success will depend on the quality of data they use to make decisions about programs and markets.  “You will need the best radar to find those spots where growth is possible,” he pointed out.

Both Gray’s inquiry volume data and Google search volume data for March point to continuing declines in demand.  Inquiry volumes were down six percent, year-over-year, while Google search volume was 11 percent lower.

National Google Searches1

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Topics: Higher Education


WASC ARC 2018 Conference, April 25 - 27:   Bob Atkins to Speak on Program Assessment Best Practices

Posted by Ellis Simon on Apr 20, 2018 2:30:00 PM

Gray Associates Founder and Chief Executive Officer Robert Atkins will be a presenter at the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Academic Resource Conference (ARC), April 25 – 27 at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Burlingame, CA.  He will participate in a session on “Best Practices in the Assessment of Current and New Programs.”  His co-presenter will be Joseph Hoey, Vice Provost, National University.

Session participants will learn how to assess the fit between an institution’s programs and external markets.  Mr. Atkins will identify sources for data on student demand, employment opportunities, competition, and degree fit.  These are the four components of Gray’s Program Evaluation System, which enables institutions to select the best programs to Start, Stop, Sustain and Grow, both online and at each campus.  Gray's data, systems and processes have been used by colleges and universities that serve over 1.0 million students nationwide.

The session takes place 9:15 – 10:15 a.m. Thursday, April 26th, in Sandpebble Room C.  It is included in the following conference tracks: Track 3 – Student Learning and Achievement; Track 4 – Telling Higher Education’s Story, and Track 5 – Higher Education’s Stakeholders: Families, Employers, Policy Makers, and the Public.  For more information about the conference visit https://2018.wascarc.org/.     

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Topics: Higher Education