UPCEA Webinar Highlights: The Power of CPI in Measuring Higher Ed Marketing Success

January 31st, 2024 by Paula Keller French

SI Cost Per Inquiry

Key Insights:

  • Search Influence and UPCEA have teamed up to create a nationwide benchmark for cost per inquiry (CPI) specifically for professional, continuing, and online education institutions.
  • With an industry-standard benchmark, higher education institutions can better understand how effective their marketing efforts are in attracting prospective students and the factors influencing their success, from media spending to agency fees.
  • To truly harness the power of calculating your CPI, you need a team/system in place that can properly interpret your data.

Search Influence recently co-hosted a webinar with UPCEA titled “The Power of CPI to Measure Higher Ed Marketing Success.”

UPCEA is a leading online and professional education association whose members constantly push higher education to new heights. Through everything from professional development to conferences and seminars, UPCEA and its members are diligently working to improve educational access and outcomes.

Since partnering in 2022, Search Influence and UPCEA have hit the ground running with webinars, research studies, and countless blog posts.

In our latest collaborative webinar, we stressed the importance of measuring CPI.

Cost per inquiry (CPI) is the ratio between the amount spent on your online advertising campaign and the actual inquiries made. You can utilize this in your higher education marketing toolkit to measure your campaign’s effectiveness.

But to truly master the art of measuring cost per inquiry in higher education, you’ll need more details from the experts.

Watch the recording from our CPI Webinar for a roadmap to guide you through the challenges of calculating CPI for your institution.

Hear from UPCEA’s Chief Research Officer Jim Fong, Senior Director of Research Bruce Etter, and UPCEA Platinum Partner Search Influence as they provide their insights on the best place to start and how to remove common roadblocks to keep you on your path.

In this blog post, we’ll summarize the webinar’s highlights and help you determine the best way to utilize cost per inquiry in higher education.

On-Demand: Cost Per Inquiry Higher Ed Webinar

What Makes Cost Per Inquiry in Higher Education Important?

marketing budget

In higher education marketing, CPI is a vital metric that helps you understand how effective your marketing efforts are in attracting prospective students.

CPI provides a clear, quantitative way to assess the efficiency and quality of your marketing strategies in engaging with your target audience. It refers to the cost of generating a single inquiry or lead from a prospective student through advertising or promotional campaigns.

Multiple dimensions of CPI

When diving into the world of CPI, it’s crucial to consider the various dimensions through which you can examine this metric, including:

  1. Media Spend: This dimension focuses on the direct advertising expenses incurred in generating inquiries. It helps institutions analyze the cost-effectiveness of their digital advertising campaigns, ensuring they allocate resources wisely to reach prospective students. This is most common.
  2. Media Spend and Management Fees: This accounts for both internal and external costs associated with marketing efforts. In addition to direct media expenses, including management fees provides a more comprehensive view of the total investment required to generate inquiries. This is less common than looking at just media spend.
  3. All Marketing Leads and All Leads From Marketing Efforts: Institutions more accurately understand their marketing funnel by considering all leads, not just those that ultimately enroll. This broader perspective allows for the evaluation of the entire journey, from initial inquiry to the conversion of prospective students into enrolled students. This is the least common way to calculate cost per inquiry.

Benefits of Measuring CPI in Higher Education Marketing Campaigns

cost per inquiry


Cost per inquiry holds significant importance for colleges and universities:

  1. Confidence in Inquiry Generation: A calculated CPI instills confidence that an institution’s marketing efforts drive an appropriate volume of inquiries from prospective students. Assurance is vital for ensuring institutions’ marketing campaigns align with their goal of attracting high-quality leads.
  2. Benchmarking Against Industry Standards: CPI allows colleges and universities to benchmark their performance against industry standards. By comparing their CPI to broader industry metrics, higher education marketers can assess whether their outcomes align with expectations and identify areas for improvement.
  3. Vendor Assessment: When working with third-party vendors or partners in higher education marketing, having a clear CPI enables institutions to evaluate the realism of promises made by these vendors.

Top CPI Questions From the Webinar Audience

Q. What is the first step in trying to calculate CPI?

It all starts with the tracking. Most institutions have CRM (customer relationship management) systems and know their spend.

CRMs can determine the source of the inquiry (which marketing channel brought in that inquiry), but that data isn’t always leveraged, or isn’t viewed in aggregate. If you’re unfamiliar with how to pull this data, seek admin support.

Determining the source, and pulling high-level reports, will allow you to get more granular with your CPI.

But data is just data until you have a skilled marketer to interpret it.

Similar to the need for a thoughtful editor to adjust AI-written copy, a human touch is necessary to truly get nutrition from the data salad your CRM prepares.

Not interpreting the data from your online advertising campaign is like having a gold mine in your backyard but never buying a rock hammer and picks.

Utilize tracking data to optimize your future campaigns and help inform decision-makers on the proper next steps for your institution.

Q. When will the results of the CPI benchmark survey be published?

Search Influence and UPCEA anticipate publishing the results of our higher ed research survey in Spring 2024.

Q. How often should schools analyze CPI?

It depends on your campaign strategy and consistency. Monthly, at a minimum.

If your school has a more aggressive digital marketing strategy with ads running consistently throughout the year to attract students, analyzing CPI monthly might work best.

If you are making adjustments and watching them closely, and your spend is large enough, you may look at CPI just a few days after a change.

You do want to take a step back and look at quarterly, yearly, and monthly trends. Perform seasonal comparisons (YOY) and compare to the same semester the prior year.

Q. What’s the relationship between cost per enrollment and cost per inquiry?

Unfortunately, we don’t always have access to cost per enrollment because it can be complicated, especially in the online and professional education world, where adult learners might take a while to decide if they want to go through with the application process and return to school.

That being said, we have seen that when cost per inquiry is optimized down, your cost per enrollment should also decrease — assuming quality is maintained.

Search Influence & UPCEA CPI Benchmark Survey

si & upcea benchmark survey

According to UPCEA, higher ed institutions had an average marketing budget of $1,294,630 in 2022.

No matter your institution’s budget, you need some standardized measurement to know exactly what your ad spend is getting you.

That’s why Search Influence and UPCEA have partnered to create a nationwide benchmark for cost per inquiry. This initiative seeks to standardize the measurement of CPI, ensuring uniformity and consistency in how higher education professionals evaluate this critical metric.

UPCEA and Search Influence believe this metric can help democratize success in higher education marketing.

Our latest endeavor with UPCEA is a response to the industry’s long-standing need for a credible, industry-specific benchmark for measuring success. The foundation of this benchmark is the CPI Benchmark Survey, an initiative designed to collect diverse insights and data from digital marketers across higher education.

This initiative is poised to elevate the landscape of higher education marketing strategies, fostering a community of shared knowledge and best practices for engaging new students and optimizing the enrollment funnel.

With the implementation of an industry-standard benchmark, our shared goal is to enable universities to measure their CPI accurately and gain comprehensive insights into the myriad factors that influence it. From media spend to agency fees, each component plays a pivotal role in determining CPI, and these variables vary from institution to institution.

If you’re uncertain about your institution’s CPI or are seeking ways to optimize your marketing budget, we designed a CPI Worksheet. You can use it to calculate your CPI and, in the near future, compare it to the broader industry standard we are diligently working to establish.

Gain a Better Pulse on Your CPI

With nearly two decades of experience in digital marketing, including higher education digital advertising and search engine optimization, Search Influence is your trusted partner for understanding your institution’s cost per inquiry.

Our experts simplify CPI analysis, allowing you to effectively assess marketing efforts, evaluate lead generation, and enhance your enrollment funnel.

Contact Search Influence today to learn more about our lead tracking, reporting, and data analytics services.

And be sure to watch our recording of The Power of CPI to Measure Higher Ed Marketing Success to gain more valuable insights.