Correlation vs. Causation in Social Enrollment Management
For years there has been a plethora of research showing the importance that social connections play in student success. From Tinto’s social integration model to ACT’s what works in student retention, we’ve been gathering sources for years and also putting theory into practice with the Schools App communities.
Recently we’ve been doing some research on how making friends, participating in discussions affects enrollment and retention outcomes. We produce graphs and charts, but many administrators step back and say,
“Wait, aren’t these just correlations? Wouldn’t the students who are participating and making friends be the same ones who are already more likely to enroll and persist?” Yes, correlation does not equal causation, however this doesn’t mean these numbers have no merit. Here’s why:
Social predictive modeling
Student’s participation in private social networks are a strong predictor of who is most interested in enrolling at your school. With the number of applications colleges are receiving growing (and yield dropping) it’s important to be able to know where to focus your marketing and messaging accordingly. Our preliminary research from one partner school shows that the number of new friends a student makes online is highly predictive of their likelihood of showing up on the first day of class.
Causation is difficult to prove
As any researcher knows, causation requires a multi-year effort, and more than likely a clearly defined experiment with us and a partner school. Although a social A/B test may be in order, currently when we’ve asked the students, some pretty compelling data arises. Between 10% and 30% of survey respondents say that making friends online helped them make the decision to go to their school.
65% indicated that making friends online helped them feel more comfortable with their decision to go to their school. And 76% claimed that making friends online added to the excitement of starting their Freshman year. That’s a pretty big impact. If you had a mailer that got those kind of sentiments in response, you’d probably feel pretty good about that mailer!
Some of both
It is likely both correlation and some causation for some of the participating students. Yes, students who are more likely to enroll are also more likely to join the app, and, the app is likely to have an effect on enrollment. We see conversations with students who are undecided make friends, get connected, and start to feel more comfortable with their future school choice.
Student Ambassadors and staff members can also get involved in the conversations to help provide support and guidance to their decision making.
We’re glad schools want to see hard causal data, but there’s also value in predictive indicator. The academic research and the student conversations we see in the application show we’re headed in the right direction. Is your school using private social network variables to predict likelihood enrollment? Share your thoughts on the correlation vs. causation debate below.