Part I:  Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic and Rasters

By Eric Cohen

A large share of GIS applications are found in the retail and real estate sector.As more business professionals learn about the power of spatial data, they are beginning to apply mapping products to a broader spectrum of businesses.GIS is branching into educational institutions, utilities, and healthcare -- to name just three.This series of articles will focus on real-life applications in an effort to help businesses understand how they can put GIS to work for them.

Colleges and universities often teach GIS technology as part of their business classes.Many college textbooks discuss GIS in a business setting, yet how many educational institutions actually use GIS to solve their own day-to-day business problems?

One private northeastern college employed GIS technology to solve a serious situation concerning the attraction and retention of students and donations by alumni.The problem revolved around three issues: First, the number of new students who applied for admission was dropping.Second, the dropout rate for current students was increasing.Finally, alumni contributions to fundraising efforts were falling short of previous levels.

The college began its search for answers by geocoding its student and alumni databases and creating lifestyle segments from that information.In addition, demographic data were appended to the databases and the results were mapped, plotting students' home addresses within thematic maps.By dividing the enrollment into 40 different lifestyle segments, the college was able to identify and illustrate the differences in its student population.From this information, several subsegments (and layered maps) were studied.Those maps served as tools to answer several nagging questions: Was there a socio-economic difference in the profiles between 2nd, 3rd and 4th year students? Were students who received financial aid more likely to graduate from the college or did they drop out at higher rates than those who did not receive aid? The answers to these questions were particularly important because approximately 18 percent of first-year students were not returning to complete their education at the college.

Image courtesy of CACI Marketing Systems

College administrators also wanted to find out if there was a difference in attitudes and lifestyles between in-state students and those from out-of-state.The college's out-of-state enrollment-which represented 50 percent of the total student population-had dropped significantly during the past two years.If the college could stem this tide by better understanding these two populations, it could better understand how to attract new students and ensure that they stay throughout their matriculation.

Last but not least, college officials wanted to understand the differences in charitable giving patterns between recent graduates and alumni who had graduated many years earlier.The college's fund raising efforts were not as successful as they used to be, but officials weren't sure if it was a problem with the overall campaign initiative or if portions of the alumni were under-performing.

By looking at the geographic disbursement of students and alumni in conjunction with the resulting lifestyle profiles, the college was able to make a determination concerning the key segments for targeting.And through this segmentation, the college was able to create different campaigns with different messages to effect more responsive recruitment and fundraising campaigns.The donation patterns changed significantly once the marketing messages, packages and campaigns were changed to reflect the different audiences they were sent to.Interestingly, the type of fundraiser the college created had changed, too.For instance, in some geographic regions, a sports activity was the best way to get alumni together, while in other regions, a cultural event was the ideal venue to raise college funds.

Using GIS technology, university recruiters geographically targeted areas of the country with high concentrations promising lifestyle segments by different levels of geography.In this instance, pockets of five target segments were identified throughout the Northeastern United States.From here, a ranking of the MSAs based upon the penetration of these segments was performed, enabling college recruiters to identify the most promising areas for new student enrollment.In one MSA, these segments represented 20% of the households, which was the highest representation.In the next, they represented five percent, the lowest.All other MSAs fell somewhere in between.

Image courtesy of CACI Marketing Systems

High schools were located on the map within the targeted areas and the targeted lifestyle profiles were run, once again.This time, profiles of the student population in each of the targeted high schools were created.Since this was an affluent college, it was necessary to target the affluent students.The college found that students whose parents (householders) had higher education levels were most likely to attend a college or university.

Image courtesy of CACI Marketing Systems

Before using GIS to accurately target new students, the college rented huge mailing lists of prospective students.Many of the names on these rented lists were not good prospects for the college.Based upon this new information, the college was able to code its prospect lists and rent only the names of students in the appropriate lifestyle segments, thus saving on postage and mailing costs.These mailings were followed up with guidance counselor discussions, who helped follow through with those students most likely to pursue higher education at this educational institution.

Published Friday, February 19th, 1999

Written by Eric Cohen

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