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:
First, 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.”