Stay safe

Hurricane Harvey the night of Aug 25, 2017

One of my many obsessions are tropical storms. They’ve always fascinated me as such dramatic examples of nature’s power. The closest I’ve come to their power was Opal, which swept up to Atlanta from the gulf coast in record time. It still packed a lot of punch and we lost some trees in the yard.

But that’s nothing at all compared to what’s happening now.

My thoughts this Saturday morning are with all the gradschoolmatchers down in Texas and Louisiana-our folks at Baylor, Houston Baptist, UT-San Antonio Health Sciences, Tulane, UL-Lafayette and LSU. Not to mention those up in Dallas and over in Austin. Then, of course, all of our student users who are living down there. We wish you all well.

I doubt most people realize what’s at stake for many people in these great institutions. For example, a lot of researchers –from PI’s to grad students– are at very high risk of losing years of painstaking work from the damage this storm looks like it will cause. This one is going to be costly.

The next few weeks are going to be very tough. Stay safe.


How to Attract the Right Kind of Applicants to Your Program

Attracting the right applicants isn’t an exact science, but there definitely is an art to it.

The short of it: Approach prospective students on a personal, one-to-one level, and be yourself.

The magic happens when a one-way conversation becomes a dialogue between applicants and programs.
The magic happens when a one-way conversation becomes a dialogue.

That’s it. That’s all you need to know to attract the right applicants to your program.

It’s surprisingly THAT simple, and so is the rationale. They need (and value) your expertise and willingness to offer some guidance. If you provide them with what they need, they will respond in kind.

Why is operating on a personal level the key to attracting the best applicants? 

  • You are an expert at spotting the right student.

    Your experience enables you to easily identify someone likely to have the proper credentials and interests for your program. You can see in them what they might not see in themselves.

  • Going to grad school is a HUGE decision.

    They are in the process of making a life-changing decision based on imperfect (and often conflicting and confusing) information. They don’t want to make a mistake.

  • The clarity you can provide is invaluable.

    Prospects have far too many options –often there are a few hundred programs a student might reasonably consider– which makes focusing on “the right few” very, very difficult. The choices can be overwhelming and your guidance here is both valued and welcomed.

  • They operate in a guidance vacuum that only you can fill.

    Applicants coming straight out of undergrad don’t find their campus’ career guidance centers helpful for graduate school decisions. Their college-grad, working counterparts aren’t any better off. They’re likely disconnected from the academic world and are mostly on their own to navigate the process.

  • Influencer networks are everything.

    The set of programs prospective students consider come from recommendations by people they know – their influence network. This network is usually made up of colleagues, family, friends and just about anyone reasonable with something to say on the subject. You can make an incredible impact as an expert in a field they are interested in pursuing. Applicants greatly appreciate information coming directly from the source and they will heed your advice.

  • Spam messages don’t cut through the clutter, but personal messages do.

    Grad student hopefuls don’t pay attention to spam or intrusive advertising any more than do you. Plus, they have spam guards and ad blockers and are bombarded with somewhere between 1,000 and 5,000 messages daily, depending on who you ask. At some point, all the marketing messages and perfectly prepared websites start to look and sound the same. This is when a personal message speaks the loudest.

On the last point, we’d like to reiterate that spam messaging and general advertising (including your website) are very poor substitutes for a human connection.

Advertising can’t:

  1. Spot the right student
  2. Hear what students dream of doing with their lives
  3. Validate (or invalidate) conclusions already reached or provide guidance
  4. Build the relationship you need with applicants in order to attract them to your graduate program

Graduate schools are in a continuous cycle of relearning how to attract top applicants and understanding where the internet comes into play in that process. As Wharton professor and information systems expert Eric Clemons wrote,

“The internet is the most liberating of all mass media developed to date. It is participatory, like swapping stories around a campfire or attending a renaissance fair. It is not meant solely to push content, in one direction, to a captive audience, the way movies or traditional network television did.”  (Source: Why Advertising is Failing on the Internet)

In other words: harness the power of the internet to create a dialogue with applicants and spread good quality information. The key to making good use of the internet to attract the right graduate students is to lean towards participatory systems.

We built Gradschoolmatch to help address this need and allow you to reach and connect with the best students for your program, and we’d be more than happy to help you make the most of it. Feel free to reach out with any comments or questions you might have.


Time to talk education and research spending now that college football is back

With September, students arrive back on campus, including the college football players. The college football season generates so much interest this time of year it is easy to think of universities as little more than sports factories. Every new season brings a lot of commentary and garment-rendering decrying the seemingly out-sized importance of sports, and football in particular. The concern is always some variation on the theme that universities have sold their souls pursuing the almighty athletic dollar. But this is not one of those articles.

What I’ve done here is try to weigh athletics activity on campuses in context with university research and education, which are the two principal missions of the prototype university. I’m drawing this picture using basically two sources of data. The first is athletics program financial data for the 2014 year collected and published by US News researchers from over 200 NCAA Division 1 mostly public universities. All other fiscal and enrollment data are those reported by the same institutions to the US Department of Education for the 2012-13 academic year, the latest available.

The chart above is dynamic and built for exploration. By clicking on the conference legend, you can turn off and on groups of bubbles. You can use your cursor to highlight any bubble to see the university it represents. With that, you’ll see that school’s spending data on athletics, research, and education (cost of instruction + academic support + scholarships/fellowships + student support). I also split total enrollment into graduate and undergraduate. You’ll also see a ratio of total university spending to just that spent on athletics. Finally, you’ll see the percent of athletics spending that is subsidized by the institution.

Here’s some aggregate statistics:

  • Data represent 222 out of the 360 NCAA D1 institutions, mostly public, very few private
  • Total enrollment of 5.5 million students, including 1.2 million grad students
  • Total athletics spending of $8.19 billion
  • Total research spending of $26.85 billion
  • Total education spending of $78.39 billion
  • Median ratio of total university spending to athletics spending is 17.75
  • Average university subsidy of athletics spending is 52.8%

At the median, a university spends almost $18 for every $1 that its athletics program spends, and of that value, $13 is spent on research and education. The university with the highest ratio of total to athletics spending is Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis at almost $138 to $1. The University of California-Davis is not far behind at $135 to $1. The lowest is the University of Mississippi at $6.08 to $1.

Taking into account that 53% of the $8.19 billion in athletics spending is actually subsidized by the universities, the athletics spending from university coffers is actually just $4.32 billion. The other funds spend by athletics programs comes from external sources, presumably to those programs directly. That’s important, because it means that, for example, the true ratios of spending at universities on research and education to athletics is closer to $26 than to $13.

It is clear from inspecting the chart that there is a strong correlation between research spending, enrollment and athletics. What is seems to reveal as a general take-away is that big time institutions tend to do everything big time. Big enrollments. Big research budgets. Big athletics programs.

Certainly, there are some outliers. For example, the research spending at the University of Alabama is lower than the cluster of universities in which it resides that have as high a level of athletics spending. The University of Central Florida, which has the highest enrollment in this group, spends less on both athletics and research then its enrollment numbers would predict.

This data visualization also shows an interesting inflection point. There appears to be a critical mass of enrollment size just over 20,000. Below this level, public universities spend less on both research and athletics. Above this level, they appear to bifurcate into at least two broad classes. On one path they choose, with few exceptions, to do research and athletics big time. The other path is a bit more heterogeneous, where they choose not to do athletics big, where some are robust research universities while others are not.

Athletics spending is about entertainment but that entertainment and that spending provides important marketing value to a school in terms of brand recognition and customer (student and alumnae) loyalty. The latter are important drivers of tuition revenue and donations. Public universities have always spent a lot less than private universities to acquire students as measured by traditional cost and marketing metrics. If I were the king of a university, I’d probably shift the accounting for my athletics program spending over to my line for marketing, branding and the overall cost of student acquisition because that’s what I think the value of college sports has morphed into.

I’ve heard people say that through his 4 day winning performance during the 2015 Master’s tournament, and all of the TV time during which he was exposed, that PGA golfer Jordan Speith provided over $30 million in advertising value for his major sponsor, Under Armour.  The point being that the value of all those football Saturdays, the TV air time, and all the newspaper coverage add up to advertising costs that would be too expensive for a university to purchase otherwise.

In the end, people make decisions on where to go to school using a number of factors. Some seek the big time experience in all that it offers, including sports, whereas many others do not. There is obviously a lot of diversity in terms of the institutions they can choose to attend, and what they are willing to spend their money on.

Whether or not you believe that college athletics is appropriate or should be down-sized is a value judgment. Viewed in terms of the overall cost structure of a typical university, and how well that university is fulfilling its other missions, athletic spending doesn’t strike me as particularly excessive. I think that the data don’t really support the notion that by embracing athletics, the university has lost its soul. In fact, I’d venture to say that most institutions probably experience a decent return on the investment in the form of tuition revenue and donor support, owing to the fact that sports can be a reasonably cost-effective marketing tool.