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

Topics: Higher Education

A Case Study:  Using Data to Guide Program Decisions

Posted by Mark Keleher on Aug 3, 2018 2:00:00 PM

Gray Associates had the opportunity to help evaluate the academic program portfolio at a major public university.  The university needed to assess their current program portfolio and evaluate potential new programs.  Explained the Assistant Provost, “the way things are right now nationally, everybody’s rethinking and trying to adapt to the 21st century.” 

The markets, academic programs, and scoring system in Gray's Program Evaluation System (PES) was customized to align with the mission of this individual university and system in which they operated.  Our team also facilitated an on-site two-day workshop with the institutional leaders to help guide and inform the program selection and assessment process. 

"The way things are right now nationally, everybody’s rethinking and trying to adapt to the 21st century."

Assistant Provost
A University in One of the Largest Systems of Public Higher Education

Data is the Linchpin

When initially considering the project, this university intended to use mostly internal program data, such as credit hours produced and costs, with the addition of a few statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  A colleague at the university, however, had recently seen a presentation by Gray Associates at an industry conference, and after discussions with Gray’s sales team, the university decided to enlist Gray’s help.  According to the Assistant Provost, “Gray offers the perfect opportunity to take our focus beyond just the internal data and really look at the marketability of our programs, which was not part of the initial charge, but I think became the most important focus of the work that we did… and actually, made it a much stronger process than just an internal focus would have done.”

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

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

Topics: Higher Education

Multi-Dimensional Analyses for Academic Programs Across the United States.

Posted by Bob Atkins on Jul 9, 2018 9:15:00 AM

Multi-Dimensional Analyses for Academic Programs

Topics: Higher Education

Soft Skills Get a Graduate's Foot in the Door

Posted by Bob Atkins on Jul 4, 2018 10:00:00 AM

A labor shortage in science and technology-based fields has led U.S. institutions of higher learning to put greater emphasis on their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) programs.  In some instances, institutions are emphasizing STEM at the expense of their liberal arts programs.  This is shortsighted.

While solid technical skills are a must for students looking for careers in high-paying, specialized fields such as health care and technology, they aren't likely to lead to good jobs by themselves.  Increasingly, employers are also demanding that candidates have strong business and office "soft skills."

A foundation in the liberal arts helps job seekers acquire these skills and can give them an edge.  Schools that produce well-rounded candidates are likely to have higher placement rates, which, in turn, will help them attract more - and better-prepared - students.

For example, the primary work activities that fit best with jobs in computer science are "design data processing systems," "write computer programs or code," and "design data security systems."  These work activities are all technical.

Gray Associates - Computer Science Primary Work Activities

Topics: Higher Education

Where Should You Offer Your Online Programs?

Posted by Bob Atkins on Jun 18, 2018 10:15:00 AM

Market Analysis Program (MAP)

Topics: Higher Education, Programs and Cities

Gray’s Market Assessment Program Identified 20 Attractive Markets for Electrical Engineering.

Posted by Bob Atkins on May 21, 2018 2:40:00 PM

Top 20 Markets for Electrical Engineering

Topics: Higher Education

Reinvesting in the Right Online Academic Programs

Posted by Mark Keleher on Apr 27, 2018 1:15:00 PM

Gray recently had the opportunity to work with the Provost of a private, non-profit college with over 36,000 students enrolled in a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs.  The college's existing portfolio consisted entirely of online programs.  When the college initially conceived the project, it was thinking in terms of identifying new flagship programs, but as they engaged with Gray, they began to think more broadly.  As she explained, “We realized it was more than just looking for a flagship program – we also needed to look at our entire portfolio of programs….  And I thought Gray would allow us to do that.” 

"In Gray, I truly felt like we had a partner we could trust."

Online College Serving more than 36,000 Students

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

Topics: Higher Education