How Colleges and Universities Can Measure Student Experience in the Pandemic Era

We all know colleges and universities put a tremendous amount of resources into academic research, but what about market research?

How important is conducting internal research to help grow your institution? If you work in higher education, this is likely a question that has been raised.

We are witnessing a pivotal moment for colleges and universities across the country. The concern is mounting among prospective and current students that institutions are becoming unaffordable, as student debt is causing alumni to delay major life events and purchases. 

How do institutions deliver the most value as tuition and housing costs become more significant factors in a student’s choice of school?

The COVID-19 crisis is also forcing curriculum online traditionally taught on campus.

This abrupt shift may alter student expectations for what they can learn remotely. What will new students be looking for in a college or university post-coronavirus?

This is the big question actively facing higher education. Market research is often the best solution to challenges like these for a college or university.

Speaking directly with prospective students, current students, alumni, staff, or the community will unveil critical insights. 

There are many possibilities within higher education market research. Below are three valuable ways to leverage market research for your college or university.

Measuring Student Experience in the Pandemic Era

1. Boost Enrollment

Just about every institution of higher education would like to increase its student enrollment. One of the first steps to achieving this is exploring why students chose your college or university through market research.

Ask about the role of factors like:

  • Cost
  • Location
  • Admissions
  • Online offerings
  • Faculty
  • Reputation
  • Campus life

It can also be helpful to see how their perception of the institution changed once they enrolled.

You can understand the thought process of students as they considered peer institutions, too.

See where your college or university is the perceived leader for programs and other aspects of the student experience. Gain insight into what impressed them about other institutions during their search.

With this knowledge in hand, your institution can prioritize messaging in marketing efforts that will appeal to the most prospective students. The research effectively takes a lot of the guesswork out of advertising spend.

Looking to speak with those who applied but never enrolled in your institution? 

Read here about a research study focused on surveying this audience for a college in New York.

2. Improve the Student Experience


Even if leadership teams believe they know what your college or university is good at, what do the students think? Market research can be used to get down to the crux of what students enjoy most and least about attending the institution. 

Just about every facet of the student experience can be assessed in an online survey among undergraduate and graduate students.

Address aspects such as:

  • Freshman orientation
  • Faculty interactions
  • Offered courses
  • Dining halls
  • Parking
  • Campus events
  • Student services

Maintaining a satisfied student body is essential to minimizing dropouts and transfers.

Market research will help your college or university identify areas for improvement as well as drivers to loyalty.

You will be able to act directly on the feedback of current students to make an immediate impact.

If you discover there is significant interest at your institution for a new academic program, consider program feasibility research. This three-component study will give you an idea of the potential success of a new offering.

3. Engage Alumni 

Perhaps one of your institution’s goals is to increase activity among its alumni network. Feedback from former students is invaluable to understanding what students expect from the institution after graduation. Do not be afraid to tap into your alumni database to conduct research. 

Curious what it would take for alumni to become stronger advocates for your college or university? Research can uncover findings of attitudes toward alumni events, donations, resources, and career opportunities.

Alumni may even be a good resource for understanding how to improve the active student experience.

By asking former students to reflect on their years at the college or university, you may receive a unique insight into what made their time special. 

A college or university can also utilize market research to obtain community feedback about their institution. 

This case study describes a state college that commissioned a study to evaluate a branding change.

Contact Our Higher Education Market Research Team

Drive Research is a national market research company located in Upstate New York. Our experts have helped numerous colleges and universities use research to achieve their goals. 

Read to contact our team? Here are 4 ways to reach us.

  1. Message us on our website
  2. Email us at
  3. Call us at 888-725-DATA
  4. Text us at 315-303-2040

tim gell - about the author

Tim Gell

As a Research Analyst, Tim is involved in every stage of a market research project for our clients. He first developed an interest in market research while studying at Binghamton University based on its marriage of business, statistics, and psychology. 

Learn more about Tim, here.

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