Conjoint Analysis in Program Design:

How Market Research Techniques Can Improve Higher Education Outcomes

               Marketers have borrowed the scientific method from us, the academics, and have made market research an essential and valuable part of the biggest businesses in the world. Now it’s time to learn from marketers about how techniques like conjoint analysis can aid us in many different areas of higher education. In this article, we will focus on program design.

What is a Conjoint Analysis?

               It is a statistical market research technique that helps companies understand which “product features” are most desirable for consumers. It is conducted by administering a survey that forces consumers to rank products based on their combination of features. Usually, these combinations are set up to have one or two “trade-offs’” so that the customer’s thought process may be more apparent.

For example, rank the below laptop models based on preference:

Computer Price RAM Screen Size
Brand A $1000 16 GB 17”
Brand B $500 8 GB 14”
Brand C $200 4 GB 11”

Multiple combinations of the above specs will be shown to consumers and then a statistical analysis will be done to determine which attributes at what level have the highest impact. For example, people may not be willing to pay extra to have 16 GB, but they are willing to pay extra to NOT have as little as 4 GB of RAM. Based on learning from examples like these, a laptop manufacturer

               A similar style of analysis as the laptop example can be done in designing degree programs, student services, events, and more. Research has already been published on insights gleaned from conjoint analyses in certain higher education institutions.

The Research

 A 2014 study used conjoint analysis to identify factors in attrition and retention in a university, finding that quality of education, quality of faculty and leveling of fees were important factors. Conjoint analysis was also used in 1993 to determine the preferences of potential students for a master’s degree in business. That study, by Dr. John Martin and Thomas E. Moore, found that students valued accelerated M.B.A. programs over M.S. programs in business. Time to completion was an important factor there. In 2016, a research team developed a conjoint analysis tool specifically designed for program design. In that study, they found that the most important factors for graduate programs were price and time-to-completion.

How can your university use conjoint analysis to tailor your programs and services?

For more on market research and experimentation in higher education, check out our previous posts on research techniques and how to decide when to conduct research.