Adding Context to Data

Here is another excellent post from John Pryor. John offers his insight on how to analyze data and add context to make data more relevant. Gowan Group has recently been discussing this topic here on our own blog. While flawed in its research, the NYT article does reference some reputable independent schools that offer solid advice from their college guidance offices.

Below is John Pryor’s most recent post:

Too Many Applications? Think Again

“Do we have a problem with too many high school seniors applying to too many colleges?

That’s what the New York Times thinks.  A front-page article on Sunday (November 15, 2014) about college admissions (Applications by the Dozen, as Anxious Seniors Hedge College Betsclaims that a lot of high school seniors these days are applying to “more colleges than anyone would have previously thought possible.”  The sidebar proclaims that there is “a perfect storm of ambition, neuroses and fear among high school students.” Yikes!

Well, there must be pretty good data behind this, right?  It was on the front page of the New York Times, after all.

To shore up this claim, the reporter cites two high school seniors, one who applied to 29 colleges, and another who applied to 18. Two cases. An N of two.

OK, that’s the human interest side (we have names, a back story, and in one case, a picture of a young woman on her laptop, presumably writing application number 29).  What else? A high school staff member tells a story of one person who applied to 56 schools.  Naviance (a company that, among other things, has a web-based program that helps high school students with the application process) says that 1 student in the US has 60 colleges they are thinking about applying to.

So far I am not really impressed. Two interviews with students and two examples of hearsay.

Finally we get some actual data based on more than a few conversations.  The reporter tells us that the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) has a survey that says that in 1990 nine percent of college freshmen had applied to seven or more colleges, and by 2011 (which the reporter tells us is the most recent data), this had risen to 29%.  Now we’ve got some data.

Only it’s not quite right, as this is not a NACAC survey, it’s the CIRP Freshman Survey, which NACAC clearly credits on their website as the source. It looked very familiar to me, since I directed the CIRP Freshman Survey for eight years, and provided the information to NACAC at the time.  We would typically have around 200,000 students represented in the CIRP Freshman Survey database each year (note to reporters, that is not a “2,” it’s “200,000”).

While the source is wrong, the numbers cited are correct.

Even though the reporter did not actually use the most recent data or the most relevant data.  Figures for the class entering in fall of 2013 (not 2011) have been released, and the percentage of four-year college first-year students who applied to seven or more schools rose to 31.6.

But wait, seven schools isn’t what this is about. It’s about 18, or 56, or maybe even 60 if that student using Naviance applies to all the ones being considered.  The CIRP data doesn’t tell us about such high numbers because we topped out the available responses by asking about 12 or more applications. And that’s at 5.9% of the college freshman for 2013.

So make a reasonable guess about how many of those are sending 18, or 56, or even 60 applications.  It’s not very many, is it?  And that same database tells us that the median number of applications per student is still just, well, four. Which seems pretty reasonable.

Why is this on the front page of the New York Times?  The headline was “Applications by the Dozen, as Anxious Seniors Hedge College Bets.”  And while the article does have quotes from guidance counselors that explain that this is not a good strategy, that wasn’t the headline, was it? Why not have a headline of “A Very Small Number of Anxious Seniors are Sending in Too Many College Applications in a Practice that May Actually Hurt Their Chances of Admission”? The message in the headline is that some seniors are hedging their bets by applying to a lot of colleges. Who doesn’t want to hedge a bet?  That’s good.

But this article is not good. It’s playing on the fears of already anxious students (and as a father with a high school junior, it’s scary to their families too). I expect better from the New York Times.

So, don’t worry that we have hordes of students applying to 59 (or 60!) colleges. Worry how to pay for college these days. That’s the scary part.”

Visit John Pryor’s blog at Pryor Education Insights.


Posted in 21st Century Skills, Admissions, Lead From Within, Leadership, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How To Make College Better, And Why We Need To…

Yes, I know he is my brother, but John Pryor’s ideas on improving schools make such sense and support my long-standing theories on 21st Century Skills. Spend the next 15 minutes listening to and learning from one of the greats. Enjoy.

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Admissions, Creativity, Innovation, Lead From Within, Leadership, life long learning | Leave a comment

What Lurks Behind Your Data?

Recently, I watched a Ted Talk and I found it spot on as far as how we should bring relevance to data. Because schools are becoming evermore data driven in making decisions, I think it’s wise to understand the story behind the data and ask ourselves the hard questions.

Susan Etlinger delivered her Ted Talk, What Do We Do with All This Big Data?, from both her head and her heart. She not only shared why learning from data is critical in making decisions, she underscored the importance of telling the story behind the data, which makes the numbers even more relevant. Etlinger states, “data doesn’t create meaning…. we do.” I not only agree with her on the data side, I encourage her on the personal side. We have an opportunity to practice our critical thinking skills. We have an opportunity to think, to question, to understand. But, more importantly, we have a responsibility to report data supported by context.

Etlinger urges us to add context to our data, to use our critical thinking skills and to ask the hard questions. “Did the data really show us this or did the result make us feel more successful and more comfortable?”

As you watch, begin thinking of how you present your data to your board, your Head of School or your marketing committee. Are you making the numbers relevant? Are you allowing the data to come alive with a story? If so, you are on your way towards making stronger connections and better decisions, making data more relevant and useful and making headway in the competitive world of admissions.

Visit our site and call me to learn more about how Gowan Group brings relevance and significance to data for schools when we perform demographic studies and marketing, communications and admissions audits.

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Admissions, Creativity, dynamic learner, Innovation, Leadership, Social Media | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment


Helping schools fulfill and advance their missions is at the heart of our work as strategic enrollment management consultants – that includes strategic planning to ensure the long-term viability of an organization. Here are five signs a school may benefit from a new or renewed strategic enrollment management plan.

  • Board and faculty do not have a unified understanding of organization’s identity or you have a newly revised mission statement
  • Current messaging is more than 5 years old and is not consistent across the school community
  • Enrollment has been stagnant or steadily declining for 3 years or more
  • Significant change in leadership at either the Head of School or Director of Admissions level
  • Considering a marketing or communications plan with a new website or marketing material

** BONUS**

  • You have your 10 year accreditation looming overhead and need to gain focus on your self-study preparation

Gowan Group has experts available to work with you and your school on Enrollment Management and Strategic Planning.

Click here to learn more about the process.

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Dan Pink on Sales and His Ultimate Impact on Schools

I bet Dan Pink never knew he was going to be a thought leader in the world of independent school education, but he sure is. From his thoughts on right brain thinking or how to motivate people to his newest insight on sales, independent schools should be reading Pink very carefully. In these two videos Dan Pink shares his insight on how the world of sales has changed. Admissions offices can learn a great deal from the corporate world of sales and how to market themselves. Take a look for yourself and see what you think.

And, by the way, Gowan Group trains admissions professionals in the traditional art of sales. In fact, it is one of our four basic tenets.

Professional Development is critical for all of us to continue learning and growing: Throughout my career as a head of school, I was an ardent supporter of professional development; I believe as communities we must always learn and grow. Our admissions guidance programs are based on teaching skills that will allow your admissions office to evolve, and, in turn, increase your enrollment. More than that – the enrollment management process will provide the vehicle for your school to learn and grow together. It is an inclusive process that will solidify and strengthen your community.

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Who is Gowan Group?

We exist because schools must constantly advance 

Gowan Group is unique to the enrollment management and marketing world for independent schools and higher education institutions. We are joined and supported by an extensive list of experienced professionals across the country who represent several of the best consulting firms in the business, both strategy and design. Our focus is to offer a comprehensive approach to your enrollment management and marketing needs, some of which are listed below:

  • Demographic Studies
  • Marketing Audits
  • Communication Audits
  • Image Reports
  • Admissions Guidance using MBA skills
  • Research and Strategy
  • Enrollment Management Coaching
  • Marketing Material: print and digital
  • Website Design
  • Comprehensive Social Media Strategy
  • Professional Development Sessions
  • Speaking Engagements
  • Lighthouse


As President and Founder of Gowan Group, I am a life-long educator, strategist and researcher, I recently began my third decade of school leadership having held leadership positions at schools such as Harbor Country Day, The Independence School, Hackley, Rye Country Day and Tuxedo Park School. A skilled communicator and visionary practitioner, I have led my schools through strategic and long-range plans, programmatic paradigm shifts, enrollment challenges and community divides. I bring a wealth of practical, theoretical and consultant experience to the table; I am stickler for data and detail and will make an otherwise arduous task seem like a ton of fun.

Over the years I have worked closely with trustees, faculty, parents, students, alumni, admissions and development offices. I speak on a national level on topics such as social media, marketing, admissions training, crisis management, professional development and board training.

Gowan Group will assist you in crafting the precise story that properly reflects your school’s mission, values, heritage and ethos. Through a detailed and thorough demographic study, position report and marketing/communication audits, we will assist you in marketing that message to the right audience so your school can achieve its enrollment goals.

Let’s discuss why I decided to build Gowan Group. Those of us who are deeply entrenched in the lives of schools and colleges are currently seeing a paradigm shift in the admissions office. The schools that are interested in making a change in how they attract prospective students to fill vacancies are swiftly moving from the traditional admission procedure to strategic enrollment management. We will walk you down the critical path of enrollment management to fill your vacant seats and create school solvency and resilience against any economic downturn that may affect your enrollment. The answer lies in strategic enrollment management not traditional admissions practices.

How can substantive change happen? Don’t get caught in the age-old trap of refraining from employing new strategic practices because your admissions office is stuck in their routines and ruts.

Affecting positive school change demands a bifurcated approach by creating an inclusive community and supporting changes with pertinent data. A successful and inspirational school consultant uses a combined approach to illustrate both the story behind the change as well as the supportive, quantitative data. By using this combined approach, one is allowing different types of learners to engage and synthesize critical information by targeting both sides of their brain. The first approach appeals to the theorists or the storytellers, but the analytical in all of us appreciates data! The story you share is the lifeline of your school; it’s a story of the people. Further, research tells us that schools are becoming more data-driven because data provide a history of performance, trends and a road map to create attainable and realistic benchmarks. So, climb on board and partner with us. You can join your colleagues and competition by ramping up your enrollment management strategy.

As a former school leader of 23 years, my head of school instincts can kick in at any moment. Thinking like a school head and relying on decades of sound, practical experience working with all school constituents certainly gives our informed perspective an advantage over some of the other consultants with whom one could partner.

It would be our distinct honor to have the opportunity to consult with your school on strategic enrollment management and introduce myself and some of my experts on staff. I would be excited to help solidify your community by collaboratively embracing your school’s shared vision. I am intrigued with the prospect of becoming a passionate advocate on its behalf, and I am drawn to the possibilities of becoming its newest biggest fan. Let’s begin with an initial phone conversation to discuss both your short and long-term enrollment goals and I can tell you some more about Gowan Group’s strong entrance into the independent school consulting world.


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Great Interview with Dan Pink and His Answers to 7 Important Questions

Dan Pink shares his insight on sales and motivation in this video. He is rapidly becoming a tremendous influence on business strategy, specifically independent schools should benefit from this insight.

Pink speaks eloquently on the relationship between buyers and sellers, the ambivert and the human side of today’s sales techniques. Admissions offices across the globe will begin to benefit greatly from this “real life” human approach to sales.

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