College of Engineering Admissions Featured in Chronicle of Higher Education

College of Engineering admissions efforts are featured in a major news story in the Chronicle of Higher Education on "Getting Inside the Mind of an Applicant.  Data mining puts a high-tech spin on the age-old competition for students."

The article, in part, discusses Iowa’s admissions office and the software it purchased to help recruitment.  It reports that colleges are "using an array of high-tech strategies to keep control of the ship. They’re gathering more data than ever before, not just on who students are, but what they do, especially online. That includes tracking the behavior of prospective applicants as they click through a college’s website. Just as Zappos knows which sneakers to show a specific shopper, some colleges now know which major to tell a would-be applicant more about at the very moment he wants to know."

About the UI, The Chronicle says, "Just after noon Central time on Thursday, September 10, a young woman in Adel, Iowa, was checking out her state’s flagship. That is, she or someone in her household had just pulled up the University of Iowa’s website.

"As that person — probably the high-school sophomore herself — clicked around, a special dashboard being designed for Iowa’s enrollment office displayed her name and email address. An "engagement summary" indicated that she had visited the university’s website 49 times over several weeks, viewing 137 pages. In the bottom right corner, a "tag cloud" listed keywords associated with her browsing history ("parents," "athletics"). The student’s overall "engagement score" — a measure of her activity on the website over the previous seven days — was a 12 (on an almost limitless scale), or "passively engaged." Still, here were strong indications that the young woman, a couple years away from applying to college, was interested in Iowa. In the age of Amazon, indications are gold.

"The system was designed by Capture Higher Ed, a company in Louisville, Ky., that specializes in "behavioral engagement." Drawing on the same kind of algorithms online retailers use to anticipate your future wants based on past purchases, the technology helps colleges make sense of what prospective students do online, determining what information to serve them — and when. A key component: matching users’ IP addresses to information that a university already has, typically from purchases of test takers’ names and contact information. Any time someone clicks on a tagged web page, the system captures the browser’s IP address, enabling the university to track a user’s activity on the site. When a high-school student finally "opts in," by clicking a link in an email from the university or completing an online form, the system syncs his information, and — aha! — "Anonymous User 414" becomes Joe from Sioux City.

"Capture’s system helps Iowa deliver automated content, based on users’ interests, via email or pop-up messages. If an applicant has indicated an interest in business, but repeatedly views information about dance, Iowa might deliver details on both majors and its dance scholarship. A student who goes to the engineering college’s web page three days in a row might see a box noting the upcoming deadline for engineering scholarships the next time he visits. And maybe he’ll get a call from the engineering school and a student ambassador, too.

"It’s a little Big Brother-ish, potentially," says John Laverty, senior associate director of search and prospect development at Iowa. "But all this does is say, based on what we know you’ve shown interest in, here’s the silver platter of what we think might help you."

The article concludes "Iowa does not use the information in admissions or aid decisions. It’s meant to better inform applicants and their families about the university, Mr. Laverty says. In turn, the data, when combined with other information about students, can also shape his office’s recruitment strategies. "We know whether this student is really likely to enroll, or maybe, or probably not," he says. "That helps make determinations on the amount of effort and types of communications we send."