ACE Blog Series on Data Offers Campus Leaders Ideas to Spur Institutional Change
July 25, 2016

A recent three-part blog series on ACE’s Higher Education Today blog looks at financial data issues in higher education and offers insights for leaders looking to improve the way they use data in everyday decision-making.

The blog series includes Matthew Soldner’s The Price We Pay for Bad Data on College Costs, Dennis P. Jones’ The Past Can’t Be Prologue and Bob Shea’s Lead with Data. Inspire with Leadership. The series introduces background papers prepared for a roundtable on financial data in higher education convened by ACE and the TIAA Institute. The report from the convening, Evolving Higher Education Business Models, part of the suite of products inspired by the roundtable, examines leadership strategies presidents and their teams can use to couple financial and learning outcomes data with business model analysis to drive performance and remake the academic enterprise.

“Higher education finance is often viewed as a black box, with revenue generation, spending and the monitoring of student outcomes often taking place separately from each other,” said Louis Soares, vice president of ACE’s Center for Policy Research and Strategy and co-author of Evolving Higher Education Business Models. “This blog series—similar to the report and background papers—seeks to provide recommendations that will allow presidents, provosts and chief financial and chief information officers to review business and academic models through a return-on-investment lens to drive efficiency and effectiveness.”

Matthew Soldner, principal researcher at the American Institutes for Research, emphasizes in the first blog in the series that senior leaders need to know about institutional spending and how that spending can be leveraged to support the students and communities they serve. He identifies three “must knows” around this issue:

  1. Know how you compare to your peers on key financial and outcomes metrics.
  2. Know what truly drives cost.
  3. Know how best to marshal resources to meet your mission.

Soldner says the need for better data and decision-making is clear, with fewer than five in 10 campus chief executives reporting confidence that their current business model will be sustainable over the next decade.

Dennis P. Jones, president emeritus of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, writes in the second installment of the series about the need to reconfigure old higher education business models to provide cost containment and improved educational outcomes. He said that success is sustainable for institutions that:

  • recognize the need for cost containment; 
  • understand the need to adopt new business models, at least for providing education to certain student populations and in certain programs; and
  • embrace the pursuit of different approaches to their core mission.

In the final installment of the series, Bob Shea, senior fellow at the National Association of College and University Business Officers, focuses on the importance of leadership for institutions thinking about or engaged in the difficult task of economic model or business model transformation. He shared some core questions institutions should be asking as they assess their appetite for such change:

  • Do your leaders have good character? 
  • Do your leaders have the ability to make difficult decisions?
  • Do your leaders operate with a solid vision in mind?

If not, he recommends encouraging the cabinet to commit to an enhanced version of shared governance using networked leadership principles, such as increased transparency and the empowerment of frontline community members to guide performance standards and metrics.