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.