The Shelf-Life of Data and Analysis

In our fast-paced, constantly changing world, data have an expiration ‘don’t use after’ date. If you’ve ever been admonished to go through your spice drawer and throw out anything more than a month or two old, the same advice holds for the character of data and data analysis.

In spite of this common sense advice, some are using data from sources that are years old, back when the population size and demographic make-up of those living in your target market were very different.   

Back when the list of major employers in your market was different – as were the industries they compete in, and the education needed to fill their jobs. 

So, here is an important reminder. Gather data about your target audience and market on a regular, on-going basis because you want to know about shifts that impact your institution’s ability to achieve its goals and objectives as soon as possible. 


Shifting demographics and population – we’ve all seen the articles about how these factors will impact higher education, including fewer traditional age high school graduates in New England because families are move South and West, and rising numbers of Hispanics and African Americans. 

How large is your target audience currently? What are their wants, needs, expectations regarding higher education? Their career aspirations? 

Are there enough of them for you to achieve your enrollment goals in 2020? Should you pursue that audience into new markets? Or are there other segments of the population in your current market that offer you new opportunities? And what about the predicted enrollment “cliff” forecasted for 2026, when population of 18-year-olds drops precipitously? 


Like the population within your target market, there are other factors that you need to keep an eye on so you can identify opportunities and threats as they begin to develop so you determine how best to act. 

What is the government doing at the local, state and federal level that may help you achieve your goals – or hinder you from achieving your goals? 

What about the economy? What are the job projections for the next 1 to 5 years, and what are the education requirements for those jobs? Do you have programs that address those requirements, or do your programs address the requirements of a decade or more ago? 

What about society – does it still see value in higher education or are potential students and their parents questioning the value of higher education and looking to other options?  

And what about the technology? What value does the latest and greatest advancements offer your institution in the classroom and in other areas? Can this technology provide you with a unique value your audience wants?  

Lastly, what about the competition in your market? How does their faculty and curriculum compare – what are their strengths and weaknesses? What about pricing? Modality? Enrollment management performance in terms of student growth, retention, graduation rates? 

Do you monitor this type of information on a regular basis? Are your market insights current and accurate so you can make better informed decisions? 


There have been countless articles in the past few years about how colleges and universities are using data to improve performance in key areas – but for many institutions, research into their target audience and target market is infrequent if performed at all. 

And that lack of understanding can lead to decisions that cost your institution human, financial and technological resources while also impeding your ability to turn an opportunity into a profitable reality and avoid a threat that could cripple your institution. 

Right now – can you tell me what your institution’s market share is of the traditional undergraduate student audience? This is important because it is a key part of the discussion regarding growth with that audience in your market.   

With the on-going demographic and population shift taking place in the US, if the traditional undergraduate student audience is shrinking by 20% and undergoing a significant makeover in terms of demographics, your current programs, services, admissions requirements, pricing…all could require significant modifications. 

What are the education requirements for the 5 jobs projected to be the fastest growing in your target market over the next 5 years?   


You need to have an efficient process for regular, on-going audience and market research that will provide your board, leadership team as well as faculty, staff and administration with the insights they need to develop and execute effective strategic operations. 

This doesn’t have to cost a lot. And the cost should be easily recouped in cost savings and/or revenue generated. 

So, if you’re seriously searching for ways to manage costs and increase profitable enrollment revenue – put together your plans for regular audience and market research.

Written by

Strategic turnaround consultant and writer.

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