April 2011

Does this sound familiar?

  • Data are not accessible—only a small group of people know what’s there, how to get to it, and what to do with it.
  • Data are siloed, and how/where they are stored (index card?) varies greatly across the institution
  • Strategic decisions are sometimes 100% not strategic, like a 15% across-the-board budget cut
  • Everybody (and nobody) wants to own the data

A few weeks ago, Blackboard hosted its 2nd Higher Education Executive Symposium, a bi-annual event for presidents and provosts to roll up their sleeves and explore best practices in improving the education experience with Blackboard leadership. The 35+ high-level administrators in attendance on March 4th focused on data-driven decision making to improve student performance and operational efficiency. Here’s a quick recap of the group’s discussion on using data to improve student achievement and operational efficiency:

Group meetingFirst, here are some examples of how the attendees described what they want from data. Data should be automated, available in real-time, easy to digest and transparent. At the same time, executives need to see the main indicators, while others across the institution may need to drill down further, according to National-Louis University President Dr. Nivine Megahed.

We know that getting administrators and educators what they want from data is a leap from where many institutions are today. But the consensus seems to be that with the right tools, and a few cultural changes, you can make a lot of headway. Here are a few things the group suggested to keep in mind when setting down that path:

1 – Executive leadership, not just executive sponsorship. The executive team should live the idea of fact-based decision making—and they need the tools to access data at their level.

2 – Avoid analysis paralysis. Keep it simple. The data don’t get any better if you’re not using them.

3 – Test assumptions. It’s important to constantly analyze academic program profitability. Programs that bring in the most money are sometimes the most costly, so the margin can be slim. Surprisingly, in some cases, general education classes are the most profitable.

There are a few institutions charging ahead with innovative data-driven decision making– implementing the above helpful hints and others, and carving a path for their peers to do the same. Notably, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) uses data to drive all levels of decision makers, especially the top. Here’s their story, which came up a lot at the Blackboard Higher Education Executive Symposium because of the way UMBC is using the Blackboard Analytics™ platform to tackle some of their toughest data challenges, elevating their operational effectiveness and supporting key strategic goals.

UMBC struggled with a long list of information requests and insufficient technical resources to meet the demand for reporting and analytics. In addition to virtually no ad hoc reporting capability, UMBC had no analytic reporting capability to address a wide array of analytic needs, including retention, admissions yields, course utilization and student performance.

“With every new student orientation cycle, we must ensure we have sufficient and suitable courses available for our students,” says Yvette Mozie-Ross, Assistant Provost for Enrollment Management. “We must make sure our academic advisors can spend their time advising students on academic and career issues instead of searching around for an available course.”

UMBC struggled with “hoards of virtually useless paper reports to support the course-planning process each semester,” says Mozie-Ross. “We often relied on past history to make course-capacity decisions. Unfortunately, these decisions sometimes resulted in some courses exceeding capacity, other courses left underutilized, and needless student scheduling issues.”

[Blackboard Analytics] is enabling a culture of informed decision-making at UMBC, on an everyday operational level and strategic planning level,” adds Mozie-Ross.

Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, President of UMBC, recently said, “[On-line retailers] use analytics to predict what books you will want to purchase, but too few institutions are analyzing data about our students to predict the likelihood of their success…I am so excited by [Blackboard Analytics] – I can ask 15 different questions in five minutes and get all the answers myself.”

Strategic Intelligence: Measuring Initiatives and Improving Future Student Outcomes

“One of the most important things I can do is to help ensure the success of future UMBC students,” says Mozie-Ross. “To that end, UMBC continues to strengthen its partnerships with area high schools and two-year colleges that serve as our primary feeder schools.”

“Using our [Blackboard Analytics] solution, I create aggregated data views and trend analyses, showing student coursework, grade performance and graduation rates, grouped by area partner schools from where our students originated. The Provost and I discuss these data and trends with leaders from each partner school to help develop steps they can take now to help future students be even more successful at UMBC. The Blackboard Analytics Student Module is an indispensible solution for forging long-term strategic relationships with our partner schools and planning now for the success of future generations of students.”

Another vital UMBC initiative is its expansion of international student recruiting. “[Blackboard Analytics] helps determine the ROI of overseas student recruiting projects,” says Mozie-Ross. “We analyze student enrollment by country of citizenship over time, comparing these results with related marketing expenses. [Blackboard Analytics] enables strategic management of our international recruiting, including identifying regions in which we should expand our recruiting efforts.”

“[Blackboard Analytics] enables us to proactively manage course capacities to ensure a smooth student advising and registration process,” says Mozie-Ross. We use the HigherEd Analytics every day to sort courses by utilization rate, easily identifying courses at, over or well below capacity. The Director of Academic Advising can make informed decisions whether to request additional seats for certain courses or inform advisers to direct students to suitable alternative classes, and steer students towards underutilized classes which will make them happy. Our Academic Chairs and Deans can also make timely and informed decisions about how best to maximize use of limited resources by allocating or reallocating resources. [Blackboard Analytics] enables campus leaders to be most responsive to course demand and enrollment pressures.”

“Many UMBC workgroups and committees typically have a laptop and projector with the [Blackboard Analytics] solution up and running and ready to go,” adds Mozie-Ross. “People appreciate the ability to ask a question during a meeting and getting the answer immediately from [Blackboard Analytics]. With student and course information available at our fingertips from our [Blackboard Analytics] solution, our meeting discussions are very focused and results-oriented.”

IT Perspective

According to Kevin Joseph, UMBC’s Assistant Director of Development and Integration, “[Blackboard Analytics] has enabled UMBC departments to engage in self-service, web-enabled reporting, instead of relying on a certain power user in the IT department. The [Blackboard Analytics] data model is also very flexible; we are now adding additional data fields and dimensions customized to UMBC’s specific needs. This flexibility combined with [Blackboard Analytics]’s proven data model results in rapid deployments, dramatic savings in cost and time, and achieving critical operational and strategic intelligence.”

For more Blackboard Analytics case studies, visit http://www.blackboard.com/Analytics. Also, stay tuned for more effective practices gleaned from Blackboard’s ongoing discussion on how to improve institutional and student performance with data. Learn right away by following us on Twitter.