Category: Higher Education

Writing an RFP

So you’ve finally reached a point where you feel like you need more information to move forward as an organization, and, even more importantly, you’ve been able to secure some amount of funding to do so. Suddenly you find yourself elbow deep in old request-for-proposals (RFPs), both from your organization and others, trying to craft an RFP for your project. Where do you start?

We write a lot of proposals in response to RFPs at Corona, and based on what we’ve seen, here are a few suggestions for what to include in your next RFP:

  • Decision to be made or problem being faced. One of the most important pieces of information that is often difficult to find, if not missing from an RFP, is what decision an organization is trying to make or what problem an organization is trying to overcome. Instead, we often see RFPs asking for a specific methodology, while not describing what an organization is planning to do with the information. While specifying the methodology can sometimes be important (e.g., you want to replicate an online survey of donors, you need to perform an evaluation as part of a grant, etc.), sometimes specifying it might limit what bidders suggest in their proposals.

Part of the reason why you hire a consultant is to have them suggest the best way to gather the information that your organization needs. With that in mind, it might be most useful to describe the decision or problem that your organization is facing in layman’s terms and let bidders propose different ways to address it.

  • Other sources of data/contacts. Do you have data that might be relevant to the proposals? Did your organization conduct similar research in the past that you want to replicate or build upon? Do you have contact information for people who you might want to gather information from for this project? All these might be useful pieces of information to include in an RFP.
  • Important deadlines. If you have key deadlines that will shape this project, be sure to include them in the RFP. Timelines can impact proposals in many ways. For example, if a bidder wants to propose a survey, a timeline can determine whether to do a mail survey, which takes longer, or a phone survey, which is often more expensive but quicker.
  • Include a budget, even a rough one. I think questions about the budget are the number one question I see people ask about an RFP. While a budget might scare off a more expensive firm, it is more likely that including a budget in an RFP helps firms propose tasks that are financially feasible.

Requesting proposals can be a useful way to get a sense of what a project might cost, which might be useful if you are trying to figure out how much funding to secure. If so, it’s often helpful to just state in your RFP that your considering different options and would like pricing for each recommended task, along with the arguments for why it might be useful.

  • Stakeholders. Who has a stake in the results of the project and who will be involved in decisions about the project?  Do you have a single internal person that the contractor will report to or perhaps a small team?  Are there others in the organization who will be using the results of the project?  Do you have external funders who have goals or reporting needs that you hope to be met by the project?  Clarifying who has a stake in the project and what role they will play in the project, whether providing input on goals, or approving questionnaire design, is very helpful. It is useful for the consultant to know who will need to be involved so they can plan to make sure everyone’s needs are addressed.

Writing RFPs can be daunting, but they can also be a good opportunity for thinking about and synthesizing an important decision or problem into words. Hopefully these suggestions can help with that process!

Is your Neighbor an Engineer?

While Kevin has an engineering degree, I do not—my degree is in social sciences.  After reading Kevin’s blogs about income patterns of folks with engineering degrees, I was inspired to take a fresh look at degrees from a spatial perspective. I wondered where engineers are most likely to live, where social scientists are likely to live, and is there is a relationship between them?  What better place to explore than our own back yard.

Since Kevin and I both like maps, I pulled some data from the American Community Survey into our mapping software to take a look. The universe of this data is all adults, 25 years or older, who have obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Interestingly, in terms of raw numbers, the census tracts with the greatest number of engineering degrees are on the south to northwest outskirts of the Denver area, especially around the Boulder area (see map 1).  Maybe people with engineering degrees like to live near the foothills? Out of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher in the Denver area, about eight percent have an engineering degree.

Adults with Engineering Degrees












However, some of these census tracts are rather large, so I looked at the density of people with engineering degrees by tract (see map 2). When we look at the number of engineering degrees per square mile, we start seeing dense pockets in the heart of Denver and Boulder, but still some good representation in the Southern suburbs.  In case you are curious, there is an average of 106 people with engineering degrees per square mile in Denver and its immediate suburbs (i.e., area within the blue box).

Density of Engineering Degrees












As I previously mentioned, I have a degree in social sciences, and I wanted to know if people with my degree were likely to live near people with engineering degrees? First, I mapped the number of social science degrees (see map 3). Around Denver, about nine percent of people with a bachelor’s degree have one in social sciences.   By visually comparing Maps 1 and 3, I didn’t see any strong similarities in number of degrees by census tract. Social science degrees appear to be most numerous on the southeast and east side of Denver, with some in Boulder too.

Adults with Social Science Degrees












What about density of social science degrees?  There is an average of 139 people with social science degrees per square mile in the Denver area (see map 4). We see some dense areas near downtown Denver, and I can visually start to pick out similarities between densities on maps 2 and 4. Remarkably, the census tract with the greatest density of social science degrees is just east of the Capital building.  Considering this census tract is just a few blocks from our office, we seem to have a nice supply of potential labor nearby.

Density of Social Science Degrees










So what does this tell us?  We know that, on average, there is a slightly greater proportion of people with social science degrees than engineering degrees (i.e., 9% vs. 8%), and there is a greater average density of social scientists than engineers.  I guess engineers like room to spread their elbows and social scientists like to live near other people.

Are engineers likely to be neighbors with social scientists?   When analyzed by raw number, there is a positive correlation between the two degrees. For about every one step up in the number of social science degrees by census tract, there is about a half-step up in the number of engineering degrees.

Does density play a role?  It appears so.  When looking at the relationship between degrees based on density (i.e., number of degrees per square mile), we see that the correlation is stronger than the correlation based on raw numbers of degrees.  This means social scientists and engineers are more likely to live in the same census tract in dense urban areas than in rural areas.

Now that I’ve answered this question, its on to my next project where I aim to prove that my proximity to a doughnut shop has a positive and strong correlation with my personal happiness.

Yes, that college degree is still worth the cost of attendance

Is college still a good investmentHere at Corona, we help organizations make strategic decisions via our research and strategy services. But individuals can also use research to make strategic decisions.

We read a lot these days about the cost of higher education. While rises in health care costs get more attention, inflation in higher education costs have actually outpaced them, and the unprecedented question has begun arising about whether an education is worth the cost in modern America.

We have researched supply and demand issues, and have seen evidence that college grads are increasingly competing for jobs that traditionally haven’t required a college degree, and that many college grads are displacing workers without degrees in those positions. That’s not quite the door-opening experience that we would hope to see coming with a college degree, but nonetheless we see that, on the whole, people with higher education levels have more earning power and better employment prospects.

We recently did a quick analysis of wage and salary levels by education level for Coloradans between the ages of 30 and 34. At this age, most people have completed their education, and by controlling for age we can eliminate some factors such as older people being less likely to have degrees. We included all people in this age range, including those who aren’t working, to account for the fact that employment opportunities may differ by age level.

EDUThe results were interesting. We saw the following pattern:

As a quick back of the envelope analysis, we looked at the reported resident tuition and fee costs of public schools as reported by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. We then added the lost earnings of pursuing education beyond high school, assuming two years of lost earnings for an associate degree, four years for a bachelor, and seven years for an advanced degree. We ignored living expenses since you’re presumably buying groceries and housing whether you go to college or not.

If you compare those costs to the income differential, we see a payback period of roughly 6 to 7 years for any type of post-secondary degree, assuming that you get no financial aid during your college years. The earning power of lesser degrees is lower, but the cost and time to get them is lower, and they even out. And obviously there are factors that we didn’t consider in this quick analysis, such as the type of degree a student earns.  But as a general rule, unless you plan to retire at 30, it’s pretty clear in this simple analysis that there’s a positive long-term financial payoff to pursuing higher education.

So for any of our blog readers considering the return on investment of college, we’ve done the data crunching, so you can now use it to make your strategic decision.


How to creatively solve problems

art economyI read this article in the Atlantic a few months ago which described how a surprising number of inventions and innovations in various fields are coming from people who are not experts in the field of interest. It reminded me of how some scientists have created computer games based on real world problems, and people playing these games have been able to help solve some interesting problems (e.g. Foldit). In both the examples in the article and the real world computer games, a slightly outside perspective helped companies or researchers solve an important problem.

It is easy to get into a rut when trying to solve a problem because our inclination is to immerse ourselves in the problem. Although carefully scanning a problem can help us spot errors, focusing on details does not help if the solution to your problem requires seeing the bigger picture and thinking creatively. Outsiders generally do not have the same specific level of detailed knowledge, so it’s easier for them to see the bigger picture. So here are some suggestions to help you come up out of your rut for a breath of fresh air and see your problems in a new light:

  1. Mentally distance yourself from the problem. When we think of something as distant from us, we tend to think about it more abstractly, and research has shown that thinking abstractly can lead to being more creative[1]. Imagining your problem as happening far in the future, in another country, or even to another person are ways of creating distance mentally between you and your problem.
  2. Walk away from the problem. No, seriously. And for those of you who made it a resolution to get more exercise, great news: you can now kill two birds with one stone. Leung and colleagues (2012) found that actually getting out of the box (i.e. the office) led to more creative problem solving[2]. You can make it even more impactful by walking outside, since immersion in nature also increase creativity[3].
  3. Watch some funny cat videos or whatever other videos make you laugh or put you into a good mood. If your boss walks by, just point to this blog post and explain that you are problem solving. Researchers have found in general that positive mood helps us creatively solve problems.[4]
  4. Sleep on the problem. Although getting enough sleep is sometime difficult when there are tight deadlines, sleep can lead to insights that help us solve problems.[5]
  5. And of course, when you are completely stuck, find someone further removed from the problem to take a look at what you are doing. We all do this informally when we talk to friends and family about problems at work. (We often joke about how the friends and family of Corona employees are an invaluable asset to our company!) But sometimes you need to do it formally as well. Even though we are a research firm, we too have hired outsiders when we have needed to think creatively about our own company. Because sometimes you really are too close to a problem to see the forest instead of the trees.

[1] Forster, J., Friedman, R.S., & Liberman, N. (2004). Temporal construal effects on abstract and concrete thinking: Consequences for insight and creative cognition. Journal of Personality and social Psychology, 87,  177-189.

[2] Leung, A.K.Y., et al. (2012). Embodied metaphors and creative “acts”. Psychological Science, 23, 502-509.

[3] Atchley, R.A., Strayer, D.L., & Atchley, P. (2012). Creativity in the wild: Improving creative reasoning through immersion in natural settings. PLoS One, 7, e51474

[4] Isen, A.M., Daubman, K.A., & Nowicki, G.P. (1987). Positive affect facilitates creative problem solving. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 6, 1122-1131.

[5] Wagner, U.; Gals, S.; Halder, H.; Verleger, R.; Born, J. (2004) Sleep inspires insight. Nature 427, 352-355.

Missouri Colleges and Universities: Private or Public

A while back, we posted some demographic information about the origins of foreign college students in Missouri.  As we continue examining Missouri college demographics, here are a few more snippets for you, focusing on student age and on public schools versus private schools.

70% of college students in Missouri go to public universities, while 30% go to private schools.  However, age plays a role, with younger students more likely to pursue their education via public schools.  While private schools in Missouri have only a 25% market share of students in the traditional undergraduate age categories of 18 to 21, they hold a 33% market share of students age 30 and older.

And lest you underrate them, those college students age 30 and older represent a big market.  They represent 28% of enrollment at public colleges and universities in Missouri, and 32% of students at private colleges and universities.

Strategy paying off

In January, our friends at the Center for Women’s Health Research (CWHR) announced the creation of the Judith and Joseph Wagner Endowed Chair in Women’s Health Research. The founder and director of CWHR, Judith Regensteiner, PHD, will hold the prestigious chair. She is a nationally recognized researcher and advocate in women’s health. Regensteiner has  published internationally regarded research which focuses on the effects of diabetes on the cardiovascular system. The $2 million endowed chair is one of the few chairs in women’s health research in the nation and is the first at the University of Colorado. The community recognized the significance of this historic milestone in women’s health research at the University of Colorado, and Judith and Joseph Wagner’s gift inspired more than forty individuals and foundations in the community to complete funding for the Chair.

As the Center for Women’s Health Research’s strategic partner, the announcement of this major milestone made everyone at Corona smile. In a time when government spending on research is being cut and many nonprofits struggle to attract donors, the CWHR has accomplished what seemed impossible five years ago. In early 2009, the Center for Women’s Health Research embarked on a thoughtful strategic planning process to provide definition and direction to its mission, distinctive competence, vision, values, research model, and overarching organizational strategy. This strategic plan outlined a bold vision for CWHR and elevated the Center’s strategy to a new level. The plan positioned the Center to leverage their place within the University of Colorado Denver, and position themselves as a research leader in woman health in the community.

Congratulations to the Center for advancing a bold strategic vision. This is only the beginning of the good work to come from an organization committed to transforming women’s health.

Visit CWHR’s website for more information about the organization.

Denver Law raised their rankings

The University of Denver Sturm College of Law has been on a steady ascent in the coveted US News and World Report rankings. The 2012 results were just released and the upward trend continues. Aside from loving numbers and supporting a local institution, why do we care particularly at Corona? Dean Marty Katz released a statement with the following quote:

“While it is important to keep rankings such as this in perspective, our consistent upward movement suggests that people are noticing all of the great work that we are doing in implementing our strategic plan. The University also has seen the benefit of adding faculty and improving student-faculty ratios and has seen innovative new bar passage programs pay off with a steady climb in passage rates.”

Corona completed the strategic planning process for the law school at the end of 2009. It has been immensely successful for Denver Law and award-winning for Corona. Click here to read the full case study or read the strategic plan.  Corona’s analytics team has also been helping Denver Law improve their bar pass rates with much clear success.

Corona in action

What better way to learn about the quality work Corona does than through the experiences of our various customers? Check out our updated Case Studies to see Corona in action. Over the years, Corona has helped a wide array of customers through market research and strategic consulting answer the questions most important to them, and then guide them from insights to successful outcomes.

You may have noticed some other recent changes to Corona’s website. We apply proven research methods and strategic insights to all of our customers, across sectors and industries. Keep checking back to find out how we can help your nonprofit, business, government agency or higher education institution.

1001th Project

As we closed the books on 2011, Corona was also wrapping up their 1001th project. We love numbers here at Corona, so could not let this milestone go unrecognized.

We were pleased to learn that lucky project #1001 was for the Iliff School of Theology. Corona has engaged with Iliff since 2007 when we created an influential Strategic Enrollment Marketing Plan for the institution, as well as a strategic business plan . Since then, Corona has led various research projects for Iliff, looking into new market segments, student enrollment opportunities and testing new curriculum ideas.

Our ongoing relationship with Iliff is a hallmark of Corona’s brand – combining our market research and strategic consulting expertise in the higher education field to provide ongoing data-driven insights that lead to proven results. Learn more about Iliff’s success as well as their 2010 and 2011 awards. Click here to read a testimonial from their VP of Marketing Communications & Strategic Partnerships.

Cheers to project 1001!

Fun college student demographics

We’re doing some research at the moment on college student demographics in Missouri, and developed some fun statistics on the foreign student population.

You might be able to guess the two largest populations of foreign students, particularly if you went to an engineering college – Chinese, then Indian.  But what countries occupy Spots 3 through 10 on the list?  Some of them may surprise you.

  1. Chinese
  2. Asian Indian
  3. Korean
  4. Japanese
  5. African (no detail)
  6. Sudanese
  7. Russian
  8. Colombian
  9. Taiwanese
  10. Serbian

Serbian?  Sudanese?  We’re guessing you can win some friendly wagers with this information.  And we’re wondering if the Colombian students disproportionately attend the University of Missouri-Columbia in a lucky marketing coincidence.