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Rapid Insight: Higher Education case study

Predictive Modeling in Financial Aid – College of the Holy Cross

Need-Blind Fiscal Responsibility

Lynne Myers, as Director of Financial Aid, is tasked with keeping Holy Cross fiscally responsible. Because Holy Cross has a need-blind admissions process, this task comes with its own set of challenges and responsibilities. For Lynne, accurately assessing the college’s projected financial commitment during the enrollment process is critical.

Holy Cross previously worked with multiple consulting firms who routinely took their data, analyzed it, and delivered a predictive model. They found that these models were disappointingly narrow in their scope and did not appear to take all of the potentially related variables into account. When Lynne and her staff began exploring alternatives, they resolved to develop and refine their own analyses in-house rather than rely on outside consultants. “The expertise already lived within Holy Cross, but we needed the right tool to help us,” says Lynne.  So they started searching for a software package that would allow them to produce their own predictive models with minimum effort.

Bringing Predictive Modeling In-house

While discussing her search with other financial aid directors, a peer recommended the Rapid Insight Software Suite as a possible solution. She contacted Rapid Insight, reviewed their literature, attended several live webinars and spoke with current users from colleges of a similar size. After researching how these other schools were using the product and ultimately conducting its own trial evaluation, Holy Cross decided to purchase the software.

Lynne was pleasantly surprised at how soon they were able to build their first model – predicting enrollment based on five years of past enrollment data. She was also gratified with the outcome – her office saw a marked improvement in the quality and accuracy of the resulting assessments.  Variables that hadn’t appeared in any of the earlier, consultant-produced models were now recognized as key indicators when predicting enrollment. The new model also validated what they knew previously only as anecdotal evidence. The Admissions Office had always known instinctively that a student’s distance from campus and income had an effect on their likelihood of enrolling, but without a tool to quantify them, they couldn’t assess how predictive these elements might be.

Enrollment Modeling

Although Holy Cross is a need-blind institution, they must also remain fiscally responsible. They need to ensure that the school’s financial commitments are not beyond the financial resources of the college to meet. As a practical matter, this means they cannot mail out acceptance letters without having a good sense of what their overall expenditures will likely be.

Since incorporating predictive modeling into school’s enrollment cycle, Rapid Insight software has become an indispensible tool for Lynne and her staff. Modeling is now a key component to successful financial aid planning. Using each student’s calculated probability of enrolling, along with their individual financial aid package, the Financial Aid Office is now able to accurately predict of what the school’s overall financial aid obligation will be for any given enrollment cycle. These assessments now serve as the foundation of policy planning as the college as it refines its long-term goals.

Modeling Simulations

Though Rapid Insight’s mission is to offer intuitive software that empowers users, its staff is always available if a customer requests additional assistance. Lynne recently decided to visit the Rapid Insight offices to develop new modeling strategies with CEO Mike Laracy. “It was really intriguing to sit down with a person like Mike and have him work through a project with us,” she recalls. “It was very hands on… not like someone running the numbers and bringing them back. We sat around a table and worked through an exercise that gave us the knowledge and insight we needed to say ‘this works!’”

Future Efforts

Lynne and her team have already begun incorporating their most recent data into the enrollment model – updating and refining it. They’ve also started collecting information about a new, potentially predictive variable that they are eager to add to their analysis. Anecdotal evidence suggests that student contact influences enrollment rates.  Thanks to the Rapid Insight Software Suite, Lynne now has the ability to see for herself how much of a role it plays.

About College of the Holy Cross
Holy Cross is a highly selective, four-year college of approximately 2,900 students.  One of the nation’s leading liberal arts institutions, Holy Cross offers an academically rigorous, personalized education in the Jesuit tradition.

Exclusively devoted to teaching undergraduates, Holy Cross promotes close ties between students and faculty.   In this active, friendly campus community, individual interests—from athletics to the arts, from campus ministry to student government—are pursued with intensity and passion.  Graduates go on to prominent academic and professional programs and pursue their individual talents in many careers and service activities.

Holy Cross is located in Worcester, Massachusetts, a centrally-located New England city of 175,000.  The 174-acre hillside campus provides inspiring views, an inviting mix of historic and contemporary buildings, beautiful landscaping, and first-rate facilities. With a tradition of academic excellence that dates to its founding in 1843, Holy Cross is the oldest Catholic college in New England and has grown increasingly diverse in the last decade.  Holy Cross graduates become members of a loyal alumni family; equipped with the resources and perspective to respond as thoughtful leaders in business, professional and civic life.