Google Trends, released back in 2006, is Google’s free tool that allows you to see the interest over time for any search term you choose. At a basic level, it confirms some of the more obvious aspects of human behavior. For example, global Google searches for “tax services” peak each February and searches for “diet plan” peak each January. Shifting to economic trends, it shows that both global and US-only Google searches for “buying a home” have been on the decline since 2005. For health concerns, you probably remember that Google released Google Flu Trends a few years ago when it discovered that searches for certain flu terms were used to accurately estimate flu activity.
What can we explore about higher ed trends using this tool?
First, it helps to confirm a few things we all know are happening, such as the steady increase in US-only Google searches for “college financial aid” as evidence of the rising costs of college.*
US-only Google Searches for “College Financial Aid”
*Google’s note about the numbers: “Numbers represent search volume relative to the highest point on the chart, which is always 100.” Learn more here.
Google Trends also reflects the increased interest in adjunct faculty, as evidenced by rising US-only Google searches for “adjunct professor jobs.”
US-only Google Searches for “Adjunct Professor Jobs”
And the data below shows that while global Google searches for “college textbooks” always peak in August, there has been a decline since 2009 (in green), to 2012 (in blue).
Worldwide Google Searches for “college textbooks” (2009-2012)
We can also explore some more recent trends. For example, are you curious when, exactly, interest in MOOCs took off? Google Trends can help answer this question, at least from what can be measured by Google searches for the term “MOOC.” The worldwide explosion started in March 2012 - see below.
Worldwide Google Searches for “MOOC”
It’s also interesting to enter different institution names, types of degrees, etc. to see how Google search volume differs by year and geographic area. The possibilities are endless!
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