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November 11, 2019 | Institutional data analytics

The Value of Student Segmentation

Rising competition for college and university students will only continue to grow as the number of high school graduates shrink over the next decade, student demographics shift, and additional financial pressures persist. A critical piece in higher education institutions’ efforts toward recruitment and retention will be understanding, and acting upon, the knowledge that each student has unique needs, attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. This sets the stage for why student segmentation in higher education matters.

What is Student Segmentation?

Student segmentation is leveraging the power of student data by filtering and categorizing into distinct, valuable datasets. Collecting, combining, and analyzing student data—such as persistence rates, employment status, and whether undergraduates are veterans or active-duty military—can help institutions understand the various services and outreach programs needed to support students during the college journey.

What are the Benefits of Student Segmentation in Higher Education?

The benefits of student segmentation in higher education are multifaceted. In a time where resource optimization is top of mind for many higher ed leaders, having data around what services are most impactful to student success is critical so you can manage your time and (and budget) accordingly. And with students demanding a clear return on investment for time and money spent on a degree, the more targeted you can be in ensuring their success while enrolled and beyond, the better. Fewer institutions leverage student segmentation as a means of improving the overall student experience, academic intervention, financial aid effectiveness, and more - a missed opportunity.

How Can Student Segmentation Support Student Success?

Student segmentation can support student success as a continual, intuitive means by which institutions can understand, plan for, and aid unique student groups based on relevant characteristics. Not just a one-time exercise, once finalized, student segmentation can be tracked and built into analyses moving forward for improving prospect targeting, yield rates, retention, and completion—cutting across the student lifecycle.

How Can Institutions Leverage Student Segmentation for Student Success?

Institutions can leverage student segmentation for student success through a number of methods. Keeping in mind that the most effective segments are those that are easily understandable, with characteristics varying enough to force each segment into a distinct bucket, universities can approach identification a number of ways:


  • Conduct an exploratory analysis of all known variables to determine differences in student behaviors, preferences, and performance
  • Interview student affairs practitioners, advisors, or those who work directly with students to establish unique cohorts of students as a basis for segmentation
  • Identify segments through various machine learning algorithms


Each of these can tap into the benefits of student segmentation in higher education. In fact, we’ve had many partnering institutions put these approaches into action.

Example of an Institution Using Student Segmentation

For example, let’s say University X has experienced drops in enrollment, retention, and completion rates. University leaders wanted to better understand enrollment trends and, at the same time, create a plan to retain existing students. This serves as a prime example as to why student segmentation in higher education matters.

What Segments did the University Identify?

The university identified segments of students by analyzing predetermined variables, resulting in the following segments:

    • First time, full-time freshmen
    • Community college transfers
    • Adult students—online
    • Part-time commuter students
    • Honors college
    • Unique characteristics

What Did the Institution Discover?

The institution discovered its community college transfers had the highest retention and graduation rates, while first time, full-time freshmen struggled in their first few semesters. The findings led to the creation of a streamlined process for local community college students to easily transfer into the university by creating an articulation agreement with automatic admission criteria. Additionally, the institution gave first time, full-time freshmen the opportunity to receive extra support from a student mentor.
The data also showed that honors college students, while the most academically prepared for the rigors of freshman year, had very high transfer rates after their freshman year. Through further analysis, the university found that financial variables were the primary predictor of this behavior, moving the university to take a closer look at its scholarship programs and how it calculated merit aid. 
Finally, to institutionalize and operationalize university data in real-time across the student life cycle, the university decided to tag each student as belonging to a specific segment at the time of enrollment in order to streamline efforts to create tailored strategies for supporting all student segments. Taking advantage of existing data to embark on segmentation, rather than creating a single strategy for all students, helped solidify the institution’s path forward in multiple areas—enrollment, retention, finances, and more.

Leverage Student Segmentation for Institutional Success

Leveraging your student data through segmentation is the first step toward institutional success. Students enter higher education from a variety of backgrounds and require diverse tools and assistance in order to succeed. By understanding and catering to those diverse needs, your institution—as well as your students—can both benefit. The support you provide will be more targeted and the insights gained from the process can be implemented throughout all stages of the student lifecycle to ensure students are set up for success. And at a time where higher education is facing increasing financial pressures, supporting student success is critical to the long-term financial sustainability of an institution.  


Ready to explore a new vision for student success? Download our eBook, “The New Student Success,” today. You’ll discover tips, ideas, and our three-step process to integrated student success. And if you’re ready to start digging into student data so you can better understand and optimize your student lifecycle, HelioCampus can help you do it. Let’s talk! 


On the left, an image of a person smiling happily while writing notes on a whiteboard, tablet in hand. On the right, the text reads "Explore a new, data-driven path to student success. Access our eBook."


Darren Catalano is the CEO of HelioCampus, leading company strategy and operations. Prior to joining HelioCampus, Darren was the Vice President of Analytics at the University of Maryland Global Campus from 2011 to 2015, where he helped develop a culture of data-driven decision making.


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