Data in a Time of Quarantine

How To Gauge Shifts in Student Demand and Employment Caused by the Pandemic

Just as the novel coronavirus has disrupted our lives, it is changing the societal context for higher education. More specifically, the programs students want and whether they want to take them online or on-campus have undergone massive changes, as have job options for interns Close up of businesswoman holding graphs in handand graduates. Colleges need data on “what just happened” so they can correctly understand and respond to their new context.

Traditional data on higher education and employment won’t help much in the short term. IPEDS data on 2020 enrollment and completions will not be published until 2021 or 2022. The same is true for BLS data on employment by Standard Occupation Code.

Gray’s Program Evaluation System (PES+) and related applets now include data through March 2020. This data will enable institutions to understand how behaviors shifted as the nation entered self-quarantine.

Gray’s data will be specific to the markets served by each college and university we serve:

  1. Student Demand: Gray’s March data on student demand will include inquiries and Google search volumes:
    1. Inquiries, through March, will be available by program, degree level, and modality (online vs. on-campus).
    2. Google Search Volumes will be available by program for the 200 largest programs in the U.S.
  2. Employer Demand: Gray tracks over five million job postings, pulled directly from employer websites. The March data will show the occupations hardest hit by the pandemic–and a few that are still growing.

As millions of people lose their jobs, many will want to upgrade their skills so they can return to the workforce more quickly. Gray’s information can help colleges and universities identify the courses, certificates, and programs they seek. For example, March inquiries for two large programs rose dramatically year-over-year: inquiries for Public Health jumped 100% and inquiries for General Studies programs soared 552%.

For longer-term program decisions, the traditional sources of information will probably prove to be reasonable indicators. Large programs, such as business and psychology, will likely continue to be big and have plenty of competition. Jobs will bounce back in roughly the same proportions they were before the recession. There will be some surprises, but if program decisions must be made now, the combination of Gray’s current indicators and longer-term data from IPEDS and BLS are the best-available information that we are aware of.

Sadly, more urgent changes are likely to be needed as a result of state revenue losses and budget cuts. If cuts in academic costs become necessary, we suggest that institutions use Gray’s Program Economics Platform (PEP). In our experience, the largest opportunities for cost reduction lie at the course level, not at the program level. Fortunately, PEP includes revenue, cost, and margin by course. Using PEP, higher-education institutions can determine internal norms for course revenue, cost, margin, student credit hours, faculty credit hour production, and other factors. The system will also help institutions identify courses that significantly exceed their norms and may be appropriate to consolidate or cut. As institutions make decisions, the data in PEP will help them keep track of the amount of money they are likely to save.

If you would like more detail on how to use data on course economics and a collaborative process to make better-informed decisions on academic cost reduction, please click here.

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Gray Associates, Inc. is a software and services firm focused on higher education. We help education clients develop fact-based institutional and marketing strategies that maximize outcomes for students, the school, and its constituencies.

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