SOC10: E-Expectations 2011: The Online Expectations of Prospective College Students and Their Parents

Stephanie Geyer 
Associate Vice President, Web Strategy Services, Noel-Levitz

Lance Merker 
President, OmniUpdate

The audio for this podcast can be downloaded at

Speaker 1:  This is one in a series of podcasts from the HighEd Web Conference in Austin 2011.

Mark:  Alright. I would like to introduce Stephanie Geyer from Noel-Levitz, Lance Merker from OmniUpdate and they’re going to be talking about the E-Expectations of college-bound students and their parents.  This is something that I’ve always been very interested in because we need data to support the kinds of things that we do and there’s always great data coming out of the E-Expectations' research and not to waste any more time, let’s get this directly to Stephanie and Lance.

Stephanie Geyer:  Thanks Mark.  Good morning everyone.


Stephanie Geyer:  This is about the most fun a girl from Noel-Levitz can have.


Stephanie Geyer:  I’m really excited to share our research with you and I hope that you will find it useful. We’ve been running the E-Expectations project since 2005 and it really is one of the very best parts of my job.  I need to give props where they’re due.  My pal here Lance Merker is my co-presentor and partner in E-Expectations from OmniUpdate and also NRCCUA, the fine folks, The National Research Center for College and University Admissions.  And then we just added a new partner, the folks at CollegeWeekLive and well they didn’t participate in the particular study that we’re reviewing today.  I got fresh data on Friday from a study that they’ve helped us cosponsor and so this is the first time anybody in the world is seeing some of the very new data points.


I’ll talk a little bit more about that in a minute.  The E-Expectations' research reports are available to you for free on and and we hope that you’ll use them.  Those websites to get them and share with your friends.  If you’re interested in taking a little bit of paper home, Lance and I both have copies of E-Expectations at our booth, the Noel-Levitz booth and the OmniUpdate booth.  If you’d like a hard copy, if you’ve got an administrator back on your home campus who needs paper, you can pick up a copy and carry it back to them.  In November, in just a few weeks, we’re going to be putting out a briefing sheet.  Kind of an addendum to the study that we’re talking about today.

The study that we did in 2011, in February was a telephone survey of 1,000 college-bound high school seniors and then for half of them we said, “Hey! Is mom or dad around?  Can we talk to them too?”  And this data reflects not just what the high school students thought, but also their parents and that’s a really interesting piece for us.  Good research, good research questions.  Always we get more questions.  And you’ll see in the category of mobile and social media, we had more questions to ask.  And just last week, we’ve completed a study, a microstudy, that goes into some more detail on mobile and social media.  And I just have three or four points I’m going to tease you with on that new study brand spanking new. I have the data in my bag with me.


If you’re really curious about something, come see me after the fact and I'll try and find the detail that you might be looking for.  The main study that we’re talking about today.  Administered in February of 2011, remember I said that they were high school seniors, OK.  In February, where do we think seniors are?  In their research process for deciding which school to attend.  We hope that they’re pretty far along, right?  Maybe they’ve even been accepted and have made their final decision.  It’s not always the case.  Some really interesting data about stage coming up in a moment.  As I said before, we talked to 517 of their parents as well.

Some of the themes for our study, of course, how are students and parents similar or different in their approaches to using the web, ECommunications, and social media in facilitating their college search?  What’s happening with mobile?  What are they doing with social media?  What other online tool or engagement pieces are most valuable to them and do we still have e-mail as a communication lair to reach out to perspective students and to parents?  So these are the questions that we’ll be answering in our presentation today.  We have trimmed this down because of the time.  And so we’re going to blast through.  But if you have questions, get your hand up there ask them and we’ll do our best to fit them all in.


Of course, Lance and I are happy to answer questions after the fact too.  They've got a fast turn for lunch and I am not the person to be standing between you and lunch.  Some demographics.  I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here.  But the point I made earlier about February.  Look at this, first stage.  This is the enrollment stage that they identified.  Now we didn’t use this exact language.  I converted it for the marketing and admissions folks.  But, we see that in February, as late as February, fully 25% of our college-bound students in this study were not yet really engaged.  There are a lot of questions about why that is.  But the fact is that there it is and it tells us that there’s a lot of opportunity that we can take advantage of to engage with these students and get them into our enrollment funnels.

Get our communications going with them.  Parent demographics here.  The thing I felt was most interesting came here.  If the student’s parents attended college, the student was 10% more likely to be focused in on a private institution.  If the student’s parents did not attend college then they were 10% more likely to be focused in on a community college.  How many of you are from a private institution?  OK.  You need to understand this and the context of the first generation college students who are in your pull.  I think a piece of this could carry into some further research on your own campus.  I’m going to turn it over to Lance.  He’s going to begin to dig into some of the detail about web use and mobile use.


Lance Merker:  Great.  Thank you Stephanie.  Is this on?  Can you hear me?  Alright.  So the first question that we wanted to find an answer to or the first thing we really wanted to find out was what do these perspective students and their parents really think about the college website?  Let me personalize this a little bit more.  What do they think about your website and how does it fit into the recruiting process?  Now I know for many of you the answer to this is very important.  I know many of you justify what you do based upon these answers.  So this is the first thing we wanted to find out.  And we ask a simple question.  We wanted to find out what they thought about your website.

Now we gave them a few choice answers and the two were the most interesting, I think, were number one, if I don’t find what I need on the school’s website, I’ll probably drop it from my list and the other one was a bad experience on the school’s website may have some negative impact on the perception of the school.  And believe or not, in combination these two garnered a 64% for students and 73% for parents.  This is pretty remarkable if you think about it.  Your institution, some of your institutions have spent a hundred years building your brand and these students are about to make a decision that affects the next four years or more of their lives.  Perhaps causing their families hundreds of thousands of dollars.


And they’re going to write you off their list or have a negative impression of your brand simply because of a negative experience on your website.  This is pretty hard-hitting evidence that the website is extraordinarily important in the recruiting process. I know you’ve served many audiences with your website.  But from a recruiting perspective, this is pretty hard-hitting data.  Oh! And by the way if in case you’re really worried about this, the lower percentage numbers about 14% for students and 13% for their parents were of the mindset of dropping it from the list.  But, I mean, let’s face it, who wants to have a negative impression of this brand that you’ve built over the last hundred years in a few moments of exploring a website.

Both of these answers were extraordinarily important.  What do they look for on a college website?  What do they look for first was the question and the answers came back this way.  This first highest response of what I look for first on a college website was academic program information.  Maybe no surprise to some of you.  Their next highest ranking answer was enrollment and admission info followed by cost, financial aid, and scholarship information.  Again, these were the answers that were the highest of the bunch.  Followed by student life and campus visit.  So this is good information to know.  I know there’s a lot of battles fought over real estate on the homepage.  I know there’s a lot of battles fought over what’s the first thing that they’re looking for.


From a recruiting standpoint, I think this is pretty pretty telling.  Please remember our college-bound high school seniors and their parents looking at your website for the first time.  Alright, mobile.  There’s a lot of talk about mobile at the conference and this was really interesting.  Because I think inherently, we think OK, everyone has a mobile device and we know we get that.  But keep in mind, this survey was conducted just a few months ago and everyone has been carrying around smart phones for a long time.  Here’s how the data came out, 82% of students and 86% of parents, they own a mobile phone.

Confidence level on this state is extraordinarily high.  This is a nationwide random survey. This is interesting, 14% of students and 5%, only 5% of parents said they viewed a college or university website on their mobile device. Now, of course, these numbers are changing dramatically as we speak.  And we’ve got some great new evidence that these numbers are rapidly increasing.  That will be out just very shortly now.  But interestingly enough, not everyone has a mobile device and not everyone is viewing your website just yet.  You've still got some time.

Content priorities were very similar to the desktop website in terms of what they were actually looking for on your site.  So then we asked, what would students most like to do on a mobile device.  Thinking, OK, there’s a difference between what we do when we’re mobile and what we do when we’re sitting in a desk.  Well interestingly enough, 77% said they wanted to calculate college costs on their mobile device.  I’m very curious to find out more about this in future researches to why that is and if that even make sense.


But this is how the data came out 75% said, “Calculate scholarships”, 65% schedule a visit.  OK well maybe they’re on campus and walking around or heading there and they forgot to make a scheduled visit.  So this is all reasonable information.  Watch videos, access social media assets, instant message with admissions reps, and complete an online application were more toward the bottom of the list.  But still the numbers were actually quite high in terms of what they felt overall in many of these areas.  Doing on a mobile device versus anything else.  QR codes, I know there’s a lot of energy spent around QR codes particularly in recruiting, in admissions marketing.  So we wanted to find out what this meant.

And here’s how the data came out, 15% of students said they’ve seen QR codes or should I say only 15% said that they’ve seen them before and 14% of parents.  Have they used them?  6% of students said yes and only 4% parents said yes.  Maybe we’re still a little early on this.  Here’s some evidence for you if you’re trying to allocate resources, time, and money.  Interactive campus maps.  I know many of you are very concerned about this and rightly so because there were some really good evidence that came back that interactive campus maps were actually very important to perspective students and their parents.  And here’s how the data came out.  We asked about the use, “Have you used?”  And 40% said yes, they’ve used an interactive map on a college website before, at least once.


And how, well 54% said to explore the campus, 17% said to make their way through campus perhaps again they’re on a campus tour, 8% to get a sense of the campus layout, 7% is an alternative to visit, 7% to find a specific location, and 2% for dormitories.  Now parents ranked much lower in this category, but interesting to see some of the differences in the percentages for using the campus map as an alternative to visit. Much much higher than in students and exploring dormitories and so forth.  So it’ll be interesting to see overtime there’s more and more of these interactive campus maps get utilized on your sites.  How it changes their perception of travelling to the college for a visit and how much satisfaction they get out of understanding who you are as an institution from these.

Some good evidence here if you’re struggling with these questions about how important is an interactive campus map.  Oh!  And one more thing, the influence.  So how much did it change the perception of the college in the minds of the students and their parents?  Well some good news here, 30% of students said that it changed their impression of the college for the better because they found an interactive campus map on your website.  And the 59% said it didn’t have an effect.  But still if you can get a better impression for 30% of those who visit, that sounds pretty good to me.  And for parents, even higher 39% said it left a better impression on them because they found one.  Alright, I’m going to hand it back over to Stephanie.


Stephanie Geyer:  Thanks Lance.  So we wanted to know more about calculators.  How many of you are ready to meet the federal mandate coming up?  Good.  How many of you are not?  OK, well uncle Sam may be looking at you shortly.  Just a side note for you here, a little nugget.  We saw in the mobile piece that Lance was just talking about that the number one and number two slot for interactive tools that users might like to find on a mobile site was a scholarship calculator and a price calculator.  In the microstudy that we just completed, it was actually the second highest rated requested resource.  A different scale, a different market.  Some changes there, but still really really important.  I know you’re going to ask so I’ll tell you.

The first highest resource that they wanted to find on a mobile site was very simple, a list of your majors.  Do you have it?  The third highest was dates, dates and deadlines.  So interesting to think about, but back to calculators.  We wanted to know first, students 36% said that they had used a cost calculator and 28% said that they had used a scholarship calculator.  And you can see here that the influence that these things had increased significantly when we moved down to the scholarship calculator.  Of course, because it’s happier news down here when they see how their hard work is paying off in the form of nonloan resources for sure.  So 47% of the students who use the scholarship calculator said that it had a positive influence on their perception of the school.


For parents 26% of the parents had used a cost calculator and 20% used a scholarship calculator.  They were like their children in that the use of the scholarship calculator by more than half or at least half increase in terms of that positive influence.  And so these tools have significant benefit.  We know if we were at a conference for NASFAA, The National Association of Financial Aid Administrators that they would be looking at the green, the negative.  Mostly negative because they are sometimes challenged and afraid of using these tools.  But we think that they ought a lot of value now that the government has mandated it.  We have to do it.  There are some ways to go about doing this that are really effective and engaging.  And can drive a user into the next step of the enrollment process.

What about all those people who had not yet used a calculator.  Well, for students 50% of them said that they just hadn’t bumped into one yet.  And remember this was February of this year.  A lot of you had your calculators up for awhile, right?  Not everybody but a lot.  Still half of the students with whom we spoke said they just hadn’t run into one.  And the other 46% of those who hadn’t done it said that they’re weren’t interested and I thought that was interesting as a parent of a high school junior.  Especially here, the 30% of parents who said that they weren’t interested.  But more importantly we see 67% of the parents had not yet found one either.

So if you’ve got a parent section on your website or a parent and family section on your website and I bet you do.  And if you don’t, maybe you should depending on the markets that you serve might be good idea to include a length to your calculator in that resource as another way for them to find this tool.  So jumping in to social---