In an Online World, Identifying Hidden Competitors is Critical

February 8, 2021

There is a good chance that you are losing potential students right from your own backyard. In the post-COVID world, online education is growing and the competition for student demand is intense.  Students in your markets may be going right out of your own proverbial backyard, and if you aren’t looking at the right data, you may not even know it, let alone correct for it. Accurate insights are critical for making the most efficient program decisions and investing in drawing your students closer to home.

When Evaluating Online Attendance, Traditional Data is Misleading

Traditional data sources such as IPEDS are out of date, and they do not show the true picture of competition in the online space.  There is better data out there, if you know where to find it and how to bring it all together.  You can’t guess at this process to be effective; the right tools will guide you to address student demand, build efficiency and grow your programs.

The Problem with IPEDS Reports and Online Competition

Student demand: Consider the most recent IPEDS report for Spring 2018. Students’ program choices were made years before 2018, when they chose their major.  As a result, IPEDS shows what students wanted in the past.  The world and student demand change too quickly to rely on data that reflects student interest from up to five years prior.

Online competition: Here is where IPEDS data falls short.  Colleges report most online completions to their headquarters’ market, not the home market of their students.  In headquarters markets, IPEDS competition is overstated.  Everywhere else, competition nearly disappears.  For example, the University of Phoenix reports its 30,000 online completions in Phoenix (see map), even though its students are scattered across the country.

IPED Completions University of Phoenix

How Gray Associates Fixed the Online Competition Reporting Problem

Fixing the problem: Gray identified and addressed the online competition reporting problem head on, offering the most current and accurate data for informed analysis and decision making.

To locate online students in the states in which they are actually enrolled, Gray examines the most recent data from NC-SARA ( National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements) filings.  We then combine this with two additional current proprietary sources: institutional completions by program and search data at the county level. This results in current and accurate results, allowing us to show students—and your online competition—in the correct markets. The difference between IPEDS reporting and Gray reporting speaks for itself. As you can see from the map, our example, the University of Phoenix shows its true competitive reach, far outside of just Arizona alone. Truly revealing.  Furthermore, the data also shows in which cities this competition is strongest.

University of Phoenix completions by home market

Keeping track of who is really in your markets and what programs they offer can help ensure that online revenue stays at home, too.

Source: Gray Associates

Gray Associates

Gray Associates, Inc. provides the best available data, software, and facilitated processes to help higher education institutions make high-stakes decisions regarding academic programs, pricing, and locations.

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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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