The Special Challenges and Opportunities of Communications Measurement for Higher Education


There is one particular group of communicators for whom measurement is a bit more challenging than most: communications people in higher education. No other group I’ve ever worked with faces a more challenging environment. The good news is that those challenges hold the keys to measurement opportunities. There are four reasons why communications measurement for higher education poses such a unique challenge:

1. Everyone is an expert

For starters, you’re dealing with an academic environment, where people do research for a living. These people are smart, and they didn’t get PhDs by being shy about it. They will challenge your statistics and your calculations in ways that very few people in the corporate world ever will. They live and die by the accuracy of their data, so yours better be just as defensible as that of any of the master’s students they advise.

The opportunity: Academics get measurement. They don’t have to be convinced of the value of research and you won’t have to explain your stats—as long as you get them right. Show them a strong correlation to success and they’ll do whatever you ask.

2. Under every ivy leaf hides another audience

Another element that makes measuring in an educational environment a bit more challenging is the number of specific audiences you need to address: Faculty, staff, students, parents, alumni, town officials, state and national politicians… The list isn’t necessarily longer than for your average multinational corporation, but the needs and interests are very different. In a presentation to the Whittemore School of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire, Steve Reno, then Chancellor of the University System of New Hampshire, listed ten different stakeholders with some six dozen different agendas that he needs to juggle on a daily basis.

The opportunity: So many audiences and agendas force you to focus carefully. You’ve got to do your upfront homework properly, and then rigorously prioritize goals and define your scope.

3. No matter how successful the football team, most of you are still in a nonprofit environment

Few educational institutions budget anywhere near enough for communications and/or marketing/public affairs—never mind putting measurement in their budgets.

The opportunity: The good news is that many important metrics are readily available, there’s a lot of research expertise on campus, and students are always looking for a good project. So it doesn’t necessarily have to cost a lot of money to put a measurement system in place.

4. There’s more data than you know what to do with

While corporate America is just beginning to discover the value of their data, people in the university environment have always had lots of it. If you need to know the average SAT score of every freshman class for the past five years, they’ve got it. If you need to know how many alumni come back for every football game, chances are someone has it. I’ve spoken to a number of university presidents who can rattle off statistics like a baseball superfan forecasting the outcome of the World Series. The challenge is to integrate the right data sets so you get the answers you need.

The opportunity: Odds are that the right data is in there somewhere just waiting for you. ∞

The image up top began with a photo by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay.

About Author

Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.