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Higher Ed Groups Make Urgent Call for Greater Use of Data Analytics

Representatives of three higher education associations gathered early this year to discuss ways to promote the use of data analytics at the nation’s colleges and universities.

The result was a “a collective call-to-action” recently put forth in a joint announcement this week.

Dr. Susan Whealler JohnstonDr. Susan Whealler Johnston

As defined by the three groups, analytics is the use of data, statistical analysis and explanatory and predictive models to gain insight and act on complex issues.

“Data are an institutional strategic asset and should be used as such,” the joint statement asserted, calling upon institutions to take advantage of the technological benefits. “We should be moving aggressively forward to harness the power of these new tools for the success of our institutions and our students.

However, so far, higher education has failed to follow talk with decisive action.”

The organizations, which in total serve nearly 2,500 institutions representing more than 20 million students, are the Association for Institutional Research (AIR), the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) and EDUCAUSE, an organization focused on advancing higher education through the use of information technology.

Dr. Susan Whealler Johnston, president and CEO of NACUBO, told Diverse that analytics can “ensure that once students are recruited . . . that they’re not hitting stumbling blocks.”

She added, “Although there are lots of ways data can be used for institutional decision making, most of the focus is on student success.”

Dr. Christine Keller, executive director and CEO of AIR, agreed.

“We all have a common goal—student success,” Keller said. “It’s time for an institution-wide commitment to the informed and ethical use of data analytics to help us reach that goal.”

Asked why it was necessary in 2019 to nudge higher ed to step up the use of advanced technological tools, Whealler Johnston said not all institutions have moved forward at the same pace.

“For small institutions, this can be a pretty heavy lift, and I think you find that the larger institutions are leading the way and that the smaller ones, as they have the capacity, are spending more time on this and certainly institutional leaders need to advocate, push, demand that data become part of the conversation, and the use of analytics part of the decision-making,” Whealler Johnston said.

The statement recommended six “guiding principles” for implementing increased use of data analytics:

· Make an institutional commitment to analytics. “Make your approach to data analytics transformational and connected to the institutional mission”.

· Build a dream team. “We encourage all institutional leaders to provide the critical leadership that expands ‘pockets of excellence’ into an institutional culture.”

· Prepare for some detours. “This means each person on your campus—from the cabinet to the bursar’s office and from students to deans—will likely find some aspect of your analytics transformation jarring. Aim high, but plan for setbacks.”

· Invest what you can. “Get ready to make substantial investments in time, talent and money.”

· Avoid the pitfalls. “Critical to integrating the use of analytics into institutional culture is ongoing attention to the protection of sensitive data.”

· The time to act is now. “A sense of urgency is critical” and needs to come from the institution’s leaders.

Whealler Johnston said the associations hope to measure the impact of the statement and its recommendations by using surveys and participation in upcoming conferences and meetings on the subjects that have been highlighted.

The document is peppered with the words “urgency” for a reason, according to John O’Brien, president and CEO of EDUCAUSE.

“For a while now, our progress on institution-wide analytics initiatives has not hit its stride,” he said. “We hope this statement encourages a sense of urgency and fosters a deeper understanding of the benefits of data analytics for institutions of all kinds.”

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