Where’s MY Data?
There is a plethora of data being collected about everyone and everything. Every time you log onto Google or Amazon or Facebook, your data profile grows larger. Search for recycled product and offers for everything from organic produce to reusable straws will appear in your email and Amazon recommendations. The question is, does the analytical powers of data collection have any real measurable impact on the items that you purchase in the future? Is the collected and stored data changing our consumer habits? Or, like commercial television advertisements, are we learning to ignore the messages?
Higher education is beginning to experience the same conundrum. After years of data collection about everything from specific student demographics to program success rates, many of the end users at postsecondary institutions are asking what is being done with this data? What insights and answers can this data provide for the real-world problems of decreasing enrollment numbers, financial stop-outs and lower completion rates? At what points in a student’s progress toward degree completion should we provide additional support or intervention?
Tracking student success requires collaboration and a level of trust between departments, programs and roles within an institution. The EDUCAUSE Review article, Setting the Table: Responsible Use of Student Data in Higher Education, estimated that less than 30 percent of the faculty respondents had access to data-based planning. In part, this may be attributed to the use of multiple data systems that are not compatible but there is also clearly a problem of ownership. Ellucian conducted a survey that revealed, beyond the financial costs of investing in analytic programs, the largest barriers were cultural. These included an unwillingness to share data and the fear that data would expose inefficiencies. When respondents were asked to identify the primary reason why staff was unwilling to share data across departments, 44 percent identified loss of power.
According to the article, The Rocky Road of Using Data to Drive Student Success, student success depends on a wide number of variables. Capturing the right data will have a significant effect on the outcomes of your predictions. The article also suggests that there should be a high level of interest, commitment and support at the administrative and leadership levels. Analyzing data, using it to plan and implement changes, and then consistently and systematically collecting additional data requires a long-term commitment.
Data analysis and sharing needs to become a norm for all higher education institutions. Rather than viewing data as a means of revealing bad news, we need to see data as a means of making changes in how institutions attract, serve and successfully move adult students through their education and into successful careers.