A recent joint statement from three leading higher education bodies proclaimed, “Analytics can save education. Really.” The Association for Institutional Research (AIR), EDUCAUSE, and the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO)—which collectively represents 2,500 colleges and universities—believe that the higher education sector has failed to follow through on leveraging big data analytics.

If the industry hopes to address declining enrollment, rising drop-out rates, and other issues with a bottom-line impact, the organizations say, then it’s critical that data analytics be deployed to its full potential. Their statement outlines six key principles they believe are essential for accelerating the “meaningful use” of analytics and building the data-fueled culture necessary for driving change.

As Shailaja Neelakantan wrote in an EdTech article, “Universities need to make substantial investments not just with money but time and talent to effectively mine data… equally important, the data needs to be shared institution-wide—analytics shouldn’t take place in silos or be seen as the individual properties of separate offices within an institution.”

Additional considerations from the AIR, EDUCAUSE, and NACUBO include:

  • Build the right team: The statement urges organizations to “establish a team approach with an unrelenting expectation for collaboration across colleges, departments, and divisions of all kinds.” Building the right team starts at the top, so it’s critical that university chancellors and presidents be supportive of big data initiatives, and also that they encourage the transparent data culture required for true collaboration.
  • Aim high, but prepare for setbacks: As those of us in the analytics industry know, there is no such thing as a project that goes exactly to plan. The organizations emphasize that there will be stumbling blocks and that at some point, “each person on your campus… will likely find some aspect of your analytics transformation jarring.” By managing expectations and being open about the fact that some efforts may fall short, universities can turn mistakes into learning opportunities which ultimately strengthen the overall initiative.
  • Act quickly: According to the statement, “A sense of urgency is critical as institutions commit to using data analytics.” The higher education sector has a reputation for cautiousness and incremental change, but the industry must be more aggressive in its analytics approach if change is truly to take effect.

The RPK Group estimates that improving student retention alone can provide colleges approximately $1 million annually. So just imagine what other gains could result if universities were more bullish in their approach to big data analytics. As the statement concludes, “For every year we fail to use data effectively to improve operations or make better financial and business decisions, we threaten the financial sustainability of our institutions.”

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