Educational Benchmark Study Update: The Impact of Word of Mouth

The data collection for the Educational Benchmark Study being conducted jointly by the Imagine America Foundation (IAF) and Wonderlic is nearing completion. The final surveys will be gathered by the end of April, and the results will be presented at APSCU on Wednesday, June 20 in the session titled First Look: The Real Impact of Student and School Characteristics on Student Success.

A preliminary analysis (based on what students have shared about their experiences so far) has been conducted. Through this analysis, we sought to learn the reasons why students choose to enroll in a school or program. The table below shows the percentage of students selecting an option[1].

Reason for choosing a program


I liked a particular program


The length of the program was reasonable


The school had a good reputation


The program and quality of education were strong


A friend, family member, coworker, or employer suggested it to me


The classes were scheduled at convenient hours


The school location was convenient (e.g. transportation)


The school had good equipment or other resources


The students at this school got good jobs when they graduate


The school helped me get a school loan


There were a variety of programs available


The tuition was affordable



With student engagement being a primary focus of the study, any responses to this question that indicated a “referral-based option” were of particular interest to us, since this means the direct action of another person influenced the student’s choice. In this survey, 41% of the respondents enrolled at the recommendation of another. The response rate to this option led us to dig deeper into what would cause a person to make a recommendation.

After a review of potential predictors of this behavior, we identified one that stood out. The chart below shows the relationship of school fit and willingness to recommend the program to others. The data suggests that students who feel connected to their school are more likely to recommend the school to others.

Based on this information, we sought to understand why a student would feel “like [they] fit in.” The data suggests that students are more likely to feel connected when there were others at the school available to listen and respond to their concerns. The chart below shows the relationship between fitting-in and problem resolution.

Given these preliminary findings, one best practice recommendation would be to ensure that students are aware of all resources at their disposal when seeking help. The availability and visibility of these resources may be closely linked to student enrollment.

In closing, we are nearing the completion of the Educational Benchmark Study. The information presented in this article is intended to be a demonstration of the kind of relationships around student satisfaction and engagement we hope to uncover in the complete analysis of the survey results.

For more information on the Educational Benchmark Study, please contact Ken Silber at or 800.977.1401.

[1] Students could choose as many options as applied.