In the world of continuing education and lifelong learning, it's not always easy to quantify goals and benchmarks.
Just ask Carrie Oleynik, Continuing Education coordinator of marketing and JoAnn Hawkins, associate vice president of Continuing Education & Workforce Development at Howard Community College in Columbia, Md.
As a long-time member program of LERN, Howard Community College has access to LERN's success benchmarks, which come from programs across North America.
"One of the reasons we value the membership in LERN is because it's one of the few places where there are national benchmarks. It's hard to find other benchmarks, especially in non-credit," Hawkins said. "It's been very important for us that we have a reference point to use in establishing our own benchmarks for success."
Hawkins said having benchmarks and quantitative data helps from an administrative standpoint because it reinforces anecdotal information and qualitative data with hard numbers.
"It gives validity to some of the things we say," Hawkins said.
By submitting demographic data - including who was taking which classes, how much they were spending, how often they were registering, and where they lived - LERN was able to analyze who the program's best customers were and where they lived, and even extract patterns in course registration to help the program market potential next courses to current students depending on their current status.
Making data-driven decisions, whether in marketing or otherwise, helps improve a program's return on investment.
Oleynik said she worked with the operations team to compile the data and submit it to LERN, and that process alone helped her, from a marketing standpoint, connect the dots of different things that were happening within the program.
Oleynik said the results quickly showed her what was and was not working.
Shortly after receiving the data analysis and adjusting their marketing tactics, Oleynik said, the program also submitted its brochure and website for critiques and made even more modifications.
"It all tied together really well," she said.
Currently, about 100,000 people receive the Howard Community College Continuing Education catalog, and they have about 17,000 individual students and 30,000 enrollments anually.
"Data helps you drive your marketing," Hawkins said. "You look at the demographics and focus your message to match that demographic."
Hawkins said the LERN reports generated helped to put into context the program's value, which is becoming more and more important, especially in colleges where programs are required to report on so many things that aren't marketing focused.
"The more you can have someone else do your marketing data, the faster your turnaround will be," she said. "That (marketing data analysis) tends to fall to the bottom of the list and having another resource to get the marketing and demographic information is a relief."
Hawkins and Oleynik said they've seen positive results so far and expect to do more tracking soon.
"More than anything, it (LERN data and analysis) helps support the decisions you make," Hawkins said.