Northern Vermont University Relies On Big Data to Recruit Applicants
Thu, February 2, 2023

Northern Vermont University Relies On Big Data to Recruit Applicants

Schools are using tracking technologies to hit enrollment targets / Photo Credit: sirtravelalot (via Shutterstock)


As American schools experience a shrinking pool of applicants, college admission officials are resorting to using tracking software to hit enrollment targets, said Lola Duffort of Vermont’s online news platform VTDigger. Laurie Weingarten, an independent college admissions consultant based in New Jersey, explained, “It seems like the majority of colleges are tracking students, and the tracking becomes more prevalent and sophisticated every year.” 

At Northern Vermont University (NVU), officials have contracted for a second year with Kentucky-based firm Capture Higher Ed. Capture’s services helped NVU drive up enrollment in its new business industry program the past year as the school’s officials delivered targeted information about its offerings to potential applicants, according to the dean of enrollment and marketing Mike Fox. School officials noted that Capture helped them to spend their recruiting resources strategically. 

Sylvia Plumb, a spokesperson for the college, said, “It helps us to know which students we should concentrate on so that we’re not spending time on students that aren’t showing interest.”

Duffort outlined how tracking technologies work. When a user visits a website, a cookie, a small data, is installed on a user’s computer. The cookie allows the website to recognize the user, compiling a history of their browsing habits on the site “over the course of subsequent visits. Companies like Capture match information that prospective applicants voluntarily give to the site along with anonymous visitor data, enabling admissions officials to create detailed behavioral profiles of students before they apply. 

But tracking technologies don’t come cheap. In a contract by the NVU, the university has to pay Capture $110,000 this school year for its services. Sara Collins, education privacy policy counsel for the Future of Privacy Forum, explained, “Filling a class is much more art than science. And that can be very nerve-wracking for both admissions officers and students.” In fact, companies selling such technologies are aware of these anxieties. On Capture’s homepage, a narrator in a video tells the viewer that working in the $11 billion higher education recruitment is a challenge as the industry is currently experiencing “what economists call the law of diminishing returns.” The video also noted that the advertising budgets in schools have soared as college enrollment steadily declines.