Measuring Success in Higher Ed: Understanding ROI and Student Outcomes

Measuring Success in Higher Ed: Understanding ROI and Student Outcomes

Young student in headphones communicating with online course

In recent years, online and hybrid learning in higher education has become increasingly prevalent and widely adopted. The rapid advancement of technology, coupled with the flexibility and convenience online and hybrid programs offer, has led many colleges and universities to incorporate these modes of learning into their academic offerings. But how do higher education leaders measure the ROI of investing in these new modalities for their programs?

As mission-driven nonprofits, higher education institutions tend to approach the topic of ROI and profitability differently than it’s approached in corporate boardrooms. Traditionally, colleges and universities have measured return by emphasizing student outcomes and mission-focused initiatives rather than focusing on profitability.¹ But as decreased funding, shifting enrollment trends, and the pending demographic cliff reshape the competitive landscape for higher education, it’s increasingly important for institutions to reevaluate how they measure program ROI. An essential step in looking more closely at profitability as a measure of program ROI is to leverage data to improve operational efficiency and student outcomes.

According to a Fast Company article, “Embracing data-driven customer centricity is vital for education institutions striving for success in today’s competitive landscape. By utilizing data to understand their students and make decisions, institutions can enhance the student experience, improve retention rates, and foster business growth.”² This approach enables institutions to enhance the student experience, improve retention rates, and reinvest in programs to ensure sustainable growth.

ROI in Digital Education

Measuring the return portion of ROI is unique to each university. Universities commonly include student success and outcomes such as retention and graduation rates in their calculation but may also measure other metrics depending on their chosen framework and mission. A partial list of metrics universities typically measure includes:

  • Student learning outcomes
  • Administrative productivity
  • Operational efficiencies
  • Cost savings
  • Access for historically underrepresented populations

Regardless of the metric, data is needed to calculate ROI. Well-engineered digital education platforms and learning management systems put the data at your fingertips. Academic performance metrics such as student grades, participation, engagement, and learning pace are easily accessible, along with student retention and graduation rates. Administrators can conduct in-platform surveys targeted at faculty and/or students to provide quantitative data for otherwise qualitative metrics. Furthermore, universities willing to take a profit-centered approach to their e-learning platform can quickly calculate financial ROI.

ROI and Student Educational Outcomes

In today’s competitive and rapidly changing higher education landscape, universities must adapt their strategic planning to include financial ROI considerations. This shift does not detract from higher ed’s core mission of producing strong student outcomes; rather, it empowers schools to ensure their commitment to student success meets fiscal responsibility for long-term viability. Our next blog in this series, Measuring Success in Higher Ed: The Crucial Link Between ROI and Student Retention, will dive into the critical connection between ROI and student retention.

Contact Everspring to learn how our technology and expertise enable outstanding student outcomes, including strong retention rates.

1. Inside Higher Ed, Analyzing the Return on Investment for Online Education
2. Fast Company, These are the best flexible jobs with good salaries in America right now. Most aren’t in tech.