Higher education institutions are currently operating within an unsustainable system. The current national student loan debt has breached the $ 1 Trillion mark, with over 50% of that debt either in default or deferment. To put some perspective on this debt, we have to consider the rising costs of higher education in a relative manner. Since 1978 the price of a college education has increased by a remarkable 1,120% YIKES! During this same period the cost of medical care, which we all greatly consider to be outrageous, has risen by 600%, or roughly ½ of the college education.
Higher education is rapidly approaching the problem that many traditional businesses have been facing with the increase in ecommerce: how to justify the investment of brick and mortar facilities and high professor’s salaries when it’s very possible that we can accomplish the same goals online, or can we? A recent, albeit small, case study with online education provider Udacity showed how poor the online results can be. Out of 213 students enrolled in 3 math courses, the results were quite pitiful. Elementary Statistics: 50.5% passed. College Algebra: 25.4% passed. College Mathematics: 33.8% passed. When we compare this data with the same courses from SJSU (Udacity’s physical counterpart) on campus we can see very different level of success: with Elementary Statistics: 76.3% passed. College Algebra: 64.7% passed. College Mathematics: 45.5% passed.
Now what in the world does this data have to do with international marketing you say?
Harvard, one of the most recognizable brands in international higher education has attempted to tackle the issue through a test of attendance. Harvard University has revealed that it secretly photographed some 2,000 students in 10 lecture halls last spring as part of a study of classroom attendance, an admission that prompted criticism from faculty and students who said the research was an invasion of privacy. Harvard found that only 60% of their students were attending class at any given time:
Harvard’s takeaways from this study are very much in line with how this magnificent institution will be marketing itself in a future where, according to the national center for education statistics, only three million more students are expect to be enrolled in college by 2022, which represents a major decline in growth for the industry. Harvard, like many higher education intuitions, will need to market their services to a global customer base. In order to accomplish this, Harvard must find better measure of learning and teaching. They will have to measure affective, cognitive, and most importantly, behavioral engagement. Lecture attendance is the measure of behavior engagement, and Harvard’s data shows that they are not currently meeting the expectations of their customers, 40% of whom do not find it necessary to attend lectures.
In a diverse global marketplace where culture often acts as a significant determinant for consumer preference, data can be the solution. Harvard, and many other schools, must find a way to correlate student activities on campus (attending lecture, using office hours, and finding extracurricular activities) to the success rates of students, without secretly taking pictures of classrooms without participant consent. With this large and small data, educational institutions could better cater their services to actual student needs, which would greatly increase engagement, which would lead to better learning and more value for the large investment of higher education. Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard offered a word of advice on the subject: When we decide what to measure, we signal what counts.” When schools begin to take engagement more seriously, they will be able to define and then convey the value their education offers, in more ways than “this school will get you a good job” or “our network is the strongest in the world.”