Benchmarking Dos & Don’ts - Monday Musings

By Kathy Kurz on Apr 30, 2012

You might be benchmarking, but are you doing the right type of benchmarking for your institution?

Tags: administrative, retention, enrollment strategies

Higher education institutions love to benchmark with other institutions on a variety of factors such as faculty salaries, endowment per student, research dollars garnered, tuition charges, etc. But often institutions don’t conduct the type of benchmarking that we think is most important. Here is our top list of enrollment management benchmarking “dos” and one “don’t”:

  1. When attempting to gain an understanding of your market position through benchmarking, DO benchmark with competitors, rather than peers or aspirants.
  2. DON’T just compare yourself to competitors on sticker price—compare discount rates; “prestige measures” like test scores, U.S. News rank, and accept rates; and measures of socio-economic and ethnic diversity, % in-state, and other factors that might have implications for your discount rate. (Note: the data for such benchmarking can be found at:
  3. Make sure you are benchmarking with competitors.When setting goals for retention and graduation rates, DO compare yourself to institutions that are like you in terms of size, institution type, diversity, quality profile, etc., in order to understand if your current retention and graduation rates are higher or lower than would be expected given measures that are typically strongly correlated to retention results. (One site that facilitates such comparisons is Note: the institutions that emerge from a search on key retention-related factors may or may not be competitors. You can also calculate your institution’s expected graduation rates based on entry characteristics of your students by using the calculator on Higher Education Research Institute’s (HERI) website:
  4. DO benchmark best practices found at other institutions at a very detailed level. For example, if in your benchmarking on retention results, you find an institution like yours that is outperforming on retention, ask to visit the institution and see how their advising and academic support services are organized and delivered. How do academic majors engage students in their first term of enrollment? How are peer mentors used? And so on. This type of “process” benchmarking is frequently used by companies following Total Quality Management principles—and does not need to be conducted with competitors or even other higher education institutions, for that matter. For example, when Xerox was looking for ways to improve their product delivery system, they benchmarked with L.L. Bean’s catalog sales process.
  5. DO benchmark with competitors when contemplating a change in your policies and procedures that would impact incoming students. For example, if you have historically used rolling admissions and are now contemplating moving to a “precipice” admissions model where all admit letters are sent on the same day, do a survey of your competitors to understand whether this change would make you an outlier in a negative way. Similarly, when you are trying to decide how to handle cuts in state financial aid programs, learn as much as you can about how other institutions in the state are planning to respond.

What is your experience in benchmarking for your institution?

Image © iStockphoto.

Kathy KurzAbout the author: Kathy Kurz retired after 18 years as Vice President of Scannell & Kurz. Her area of expertise is developing strategic financial aid and retention programs designed to enhance enrollment and net tuition revenue results. She previously served as Associate Vice President at the University of Rochester and Director of Financial Aid at Earlham College.

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