Higher Ed Focus Groups & Surveys: Are You Listening to Your Students?

By | 2018-05-23T07:59:14+00:00 April 10th, 2018|Categories: Higher Education|Tags: , , , , |

Est. Reading Time: 4 minutes

Colleges and universities are in a constant state of change. Every year, graduates leaving for the “real world” are replaced on campus by an incoming freshman class.

While the demographic mix of incoming classes at a given school typically changes little year to year, the students themselves — their interests, use of technology, social media interactions — are prone to more frequent change.

So, how do higher education institutions keep up with the changing student profile? How do they ensure that their communication efforts achieve the wanted response? As with any marketing endeavor, understanding your target audience is essential to meeting your goals.

Focus Groups Are an Excellent Source of Qualitative Data

One way to get to know your audience is with an in-depth focus group interview. There are many focus group designs — dueling moderators, respondents-as-moderator, dual group, and more. But, the classic format involves one or two moderators leading the session, and a group of eight to 12 participants answering questions.

Focus groups provide the opportunity to gain deep insight into the attitudes, beliefs, behaviors and opinions of your target audience. In a higher education setting, the audience can be students already on campus, incoming students, or even parents of students (since they have a tendency to know their student pretty well).

Of course, you want to be selective in choosing your focus group participants.

You’ll also want to make sure that the group you end up interviewing is demographically representative of your target audience.

Surveys Provide Measurable, Quantitative Data

Another way to gain insight into your target audience is through surveys. In a survey, a small percentage of your target audience provides answers to a predetermined set of questions. The questions can be multiple choice, true/false, fill in the blank, or open-ended. If the goal of your survey is measurable data, you’ll want to focus on the first three types and avoid open-ended questions.

Surveys can be conducted as an interview (in-person, telephone, or video conference) or as a questionnaire (via email, snail mail, or online session). To get the most out of your survey, the questions should take five minutes or less to complete and be available to participants for at least two weeks. Providing an incentive (cash, school supplies, or coupons) and getting the word out to student influencers (club presidents, student government representatives, etc) can help boost your response rate.

Applying Your Data

So, you’ve collected your answers. Now what?

The next step is to analyze the data and pull out relevant insights. With focus group results, you’ll need to carefully examine each person’s responses, organize the answers into categories, and evaluate how the data applies to your research goals. The following questions can help:

  • What big themes emerge from the responses?
  • Do the responses confirm a known, or lead to a new discovery?
  • Do the responses change your perspective?
  • What insights can be gleaned?

Because survey results are typically numerical, the analysis process is more straightforward. Simply tabulate your results and draw conclusions from the final data.

Need Some Help Getting Started?

Beacon has managed countless focus groups and surveys on behalf of our clients. These tools are important aspects of the research and strategic analysis we perform for any successful website development or redesign projects. For expert advice, reach out to our Digital Marketing Services team today, or call us at (866) 708-1467.

About the Author:

Heather Grimsley
Heather Grimsley is Beacon’s Marketing Manager, overseeing Beacon’s marketing efforts including our websites, email campaigns, and tradeshows. Heather brings over seven years of experience in Higher Education, most recently as the Marketing Communications Manager at Ithaca College.