ACE2018: Harnessing the Data Analytics Revolution for Student Success

March 13, 2018

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By Morgan Taylor

The amount of data is growing at a rate faster than ever before. Harnessing the analytics revolution presents an opportunity for colleges and universities to create a campus-wide culture of data-informed decision making, increasing the success of the students they serve and strengthening institutional sustainability.

The ACE2018 session “Enabling the Data-Informed CEO,” moderated by Jonathan Gagliardi, associate director of ACE’s Center for Policy Research and Strategy, sought to unpack the opportunities and challenges facing leaders in their efforts to harness the analytics revolution. Panelists José Luis Cruz (president, Lehman College, CUNY), Mark P. Becker (president, Georgia State University), Scott D. Pulsipher (president, Western Governors University), and Christine M. Keller (executive director and CEO, Association for Institutional Research), shared their experiences with building out data analytics and becoming data-enabled executives.

While the panelists lead institutions with different institutional characteristics and serve varying student body demographics, several common themes emerged:

Need for change: The first step is to realize and acknowledge a need for change. Whether it be issues related to summer melt and/or student completion, embracing problems allows for a space for change to take place.

Leadership Matters: Presidential commitment is key in creating a shift in organizational culture that focuses on data and data use. Presidents should use their platform to embrace and lead institutional change.

Resources: Resources, while helpful, are not needed. As President Becker noted, “It helps to not have resources.” There are cost-effective solutions to problems institutions face. For example, Georgia State University noted a problem with summer melt for incoming students and utilized chatbots as a way to communicate with students via text messaging—the preferred communication format for today’s student—as a way to stay engaged with them throughout the summer until courses begin in the fall.

Collaboration: Collaboration is key, and embracing data across the institution is a journey. Utilizing data on a wider scale across the institution requires keepers of the data to work together to achieve better outcomes. It also requires building partnerships across all departments to translate data into practice and action with regards to how each member of faculty and staff can support their students to success.

Utilize Technology: Technology has come a long way and is on our side. While each institution is different, they all share one common goal – increasing the success of the students they serve. Embracing data analytics can assist institutions in fulfilling this goal by creating systems that flag students who may drift off track.

Increasing student success and improving outcomes is a valued goal across all of higher education. Data provides an opportunity, that if embraced fully, organized effectively, and understood widely, can help institutional leaders do just that. Doing so, however, requires intentionality, room for growth and learning, and even perhaps institutional change. There is no time like the present, but thankfully for us within higher education, technology is on our side to help us achieve these efforts. As President Pulsipher noted, “we are in the age of outcomes…we have to prove it.”


*This session was sponsored by Western Governors University


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