Limits of Modeling - Monday Musings

By Jennifer Wick on Apr 23, 2012

Predictive modeling is a powerful tool, but it isn’t perfect.

Tags: admissions, enrollment strategies, data

When I was part of an admissions office, every day in April at 10:00 AM, you could have mistaken the tension and excitement in the office for an episode of Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch, brought on by the arrival of the mail bin. Enrollment deposits that arrived via phone were harkened by the ringing of a bell, and we each took guesses at what the final tally for the day would be once the web payments were counted. If we had a particularly good day, the news traveled like wildfire across campus. Wherever I went, on campus or off, if I ran into someone I knew, I would invariably be asked how the numbers looked. Anticipation was in the air, even with sophisticated data tracking and aid strategies developed through predictive modeling in place.Predictive modeling has some limits, but is a useful tool.

Why? At the heart of it, predictive modeling is a powerful tool, but it isn’t perfect.

  • Predictive models are based on prior-year data, so major differences in the pool can dampen their accuracy.
  • An econometric model’s ability to predict enrollment behavior is also sensitive to outside factors such as unanticipated changes in competing institutions’ policies and sudden changes in state grant funding.
  • While the variables in an econometric model certainly are key decision factors, even the best models only explain a portion of the variance in enrollment behavior. Variables not in the model (and not even captured by an institution) certainly play a role as well. (These are teenagers, after all!)

While econometric modeling can introduce more predictability about enrollment results, it can’t completely eliminate the anticipation surrounding what enrollment results will be, nor is it a replacement for strong, sound leadership. What it can do is provide powerful information for strategic decision making, when used in the right context.

Image © iStockphoto.

Jennifer WickAbout the author: Jennifer Wick joined the Scannell & Kurz team as an Enrollment Management Consultant in May 2011 before becoming Vice President in July 2014. She provides consulting on a wide range of enrollment management topics from pricing and financial aid strategies, retention initiatives, and recruitment planning to operations in student service offices. Jen comes to S&K from Clarkson University where she served for eleven years in enrollment roles, nine of those years as Director of New Student Financial Assistance. Her experience encompasses both financial aid and admissions responsibilities, specializing in balancing financial aid strategies with enrollment targets and retention concerns. She has conducted enrollment data analysis, managed regional territories, and created successful financial aid strategies for targeted demographics. In addition, Jen has a keen interest in retention, including predictive model development to identify at-risk first-year students.

She is a regular contributor to University Business and speaks at national conferences such as annual meetings of NASFAA, ACT Enrollment Planners, Aligning Experts Summit, etc.

Jen earned a B.S. and M.S. in Physics, both from Clarkson University. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

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