May 22, 2017

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This article by Roger Riddell originally appeared on Education Dive

Dive Brief:

  • Writing for eCampus News, Jack Neill, vice president of client services at HelioCampus and former senior director of analytics at University of Maryland University College, says institutions must think “bigger and broader” when it comes to the possibilities of utilizing analytics.
  • Neill writes that when looking to leverage analytics, institutions should ask questions around whether the students being recruited are those most likely to succeed there, what the patterns around degree completion are and how to improve them, and how students can be segmented into subpopulations for better service.
  • Thinking broader in this manner, according to Neill, can help institutions shine light on potentially expensive blind spots that, despite how well-meaning leaders may be, can sometimes only expand the problem.

Dive Insight:

Data analytics has proven to be a powerful tool in a number of industries, and in higher ed, it has significant potential to help institutions streamline operations and improve experiences for students. But in using that data, colleges and universities must also be careful to also consider the underlying causes behind some of those numbers.

During a panel at the recent ASU+GSV Summit in Salt Lake City, Strada Education Network Vice President of Analytics Carlo Salerno contended with his peers that noted that forcing institutions into data-based accountability around achievement metrics is difficult due to a variety of factors that can make pushing students through a system difficult. Particularly, he said he could think of “100 reasons” why a person might not succeed that has nothing to do with the institution.

For colleges and universities looking to serve more low-income or first-generation students, one example scenario leaders might consider is that a student struggling financially could be derailed on their path to degree by something as simple as an auto repair. When faced with a decision of attending college versus making ends meet, these students will understandably opt for the latter, but those needs can potentially be buried when simply examining raw data. Part of the broader thinking Neill advocates for in eCampus News, then, will require institutional leaders (and policymakers) to consider how to address things like cost to expand access for students from these backgrounds — especially as the need for a more educated workforce grows.