5 Tips for Data-Driven Decision Making in Higher Education

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5 Tips for Data-Driven Decision Making in Higher Education

No matter the industry, making data part of a culture is a process. It can be especially challenging if your organization is widely dispersed or not adaptive to new technology — such as the higher education industry.

Below, we’ve outlined what you need to know about data-driven decision making in education as well as five tips to help you implement a successful process.

What is Data-Driven Decision Making?

In a data-driven culture, decisions are made based on factual, verifiable information. The process typically includes analyzing data sets — including big data — to identify trends and make projections for the future.

Since colleges and universities have more data now than ever before, the higher education industry can embrace a data-driven culture to:

  • Measure student progress and success
  • Gauge instructor productivity
  • Assess the effectiveness of a certain program
  • Track resource allocation

An example of data-driven decision making in higher education could involve analyzing enrollment trends for a particular department. If you find that enrollments have been on a steady decline for sociology courses, a data-driven decision would be to re-evaluate the curriculum and merge or eliminate certain classes.

The Benefits of a Data-Driven Culture

Data-driven decision making is used in nearly every industry, with higher education being just one of the latest to adopt it into their culture.

One of the biggest benefits for higher education is that it allows educators to make decisions based on historical trends and projections for the future. Brainstorming sessions can be supplemented with reports that display patterns and trends, as opposed to strategizing ideas based on speculations or assumptions.

Data then allows you to measure the success of your efforts. If you used past trends to strategize how to cut costs in the engineering program, you can compare your projections to the actual outcome and determine the effectiveness of your decisions.

Institutions have also placed more emphasis on using data to identify and improve student outcomes.

“Shifting to the awareness and improvement of student outcomes is fairly new to education,” said Bob Barr, retired institutional researcher at Gavilan College. “But while data and analytics for outcomes are not yet well advanced in many institutions, a tool like Precision Campus can help a lot.”

Adopting a data-driven culture is an adjustment that will likely take time to become successful. You can use the five tips below to ensure that you’re off to the best start possible.

1. Lead by Example

First, your institution’s leadership needs to embrace data in order for the rest of your employees to get on board. Once stakeholders are invested, you should be as transparent as possible with the rest of your team, so they know why there is a change.

Your team will likely be curious to know:

  • Your reason for embracing data
  • A timeframe for implementation
  • How their jobs may be affected
  • Where they can turn for help

You should also check in regularly with everyone who is utilizing the new process to identify what’s working and what’s not. This will give everyone a chance to be heard during the adjustment period and will give you an idea of areas that you may still need to improve.

2. Establish Goals

What are you hoping to achieve?

In a data-driven culture, you’ll have a lot of information available at your fingertips — so much information that it could become chaotic if you don’t set specific goals.

Before diving into your data, you need to have a strategy in place. You’ll have data sets for everything that goes on in your institution — faculty productivity, student success rates, resource allocation, etc. — so it’s important to determine which are most relevant to your goals.

Start by figuring out exactly what you’re hoping for. Do you want to increase enrollments in English classes by 5% in the next two years? If so, you won’t need to bother with fundraising data or enrollment numbers for the science department. Keeping goals like this in mind will make it easier to prioritize your information.

Maybe you just want everyone in your institution to utilize data independently so that your institutional research department isn’t bogged down by creating simple reports. If big goals — like a substantial increase in enrollments — seem out of reach, try working toward small milestones like this instead.

3. Set Expectations

Implementing a data-driven culture will require some of your employees to understand and follow a new process. It might take time for everyone to adjust, but setting expectations through open communication can help make the transition seamless.

You can start small in order to get everyone acclimated. Maybe one department will roll out a data-driven process to test the waters and then offer feedback before your entire institution implements it.

It will also be beneficial to create a schedule for analyzing and reporting on your data that aligns with the times you need it the most for planning and strategizing. Are there certain times of the year when you reassess your course offerings? Preparing your data well beforehand will give you time to digest the numbers so you can make the best data-driven decisions possible.

4. Make Data Easy to Understand

In a data-driven culture, information needs to be easy to access and simple to understand. Otherwise, it will be difficult for everyone to fully get on board with the transition.

Think about it: An endless spreadsheet full of numbers will do nothing except cause headaches for whoever is tasked with managing and interpreting the information.

For full transparency, you should make sure that employees are able to access data exactly when and where they need it. And once they get it, the information needs to be organized and presented properly to avoid time-consuming, confusing processes.

If no one is able to actually understand your data, the purpose of it will quickly be defeated.

5. Use a Data Analytics Program

The amount of data you have will require a robust infrastructure. However, a data analytics platform will make it incredibly easy to manage, organize and analyze your institutional data sets.

Software solutions make data incredibly easy for anyone with credentials to access, so your research department can avoid becoming overwhelmed by requests. Modern data analytics platforms can also convert dull numbers into visual pie charts, bar graphs and line graphs, so your data can be much easier to interpret and utilize.

Precision Campus is a data analytics software platform designed exclusively for higher education. We make it easy for institutions to store, manage and analyze data in order to establish a data-driven decision-making culture.

The best part? You can get started with Precision Campus for free!

Need help finding data analytics software?

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