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ACE Paper Explores Use of Data Analytics to Spur Student, Institutional Success

December 13, 2017

Authors call for institutional leaders to increase use of data in decision making

​Colleges and universities have begun to embrace the need for data-informed decision making to help drive institutional innovation and improvement, but more progress is needed before the analytics revolution takes firm root in higher education.

That is the conclusion of The Data-Enabled Executive: Using Analytics for Student Success and Sustainability, a paper co-authored by Jonathan S. Gagliardi, associate director at ACE’s Center for Policy Research and Strategy​ (CPRS), and Jonathan M. Turk, senior policy research analyst at CPRS. 

It is intended as a primer on how to further infuse data-informed decision making into the college presidency and other senior leadership positions. The Data-Enabled Executive explores the opportunities and challenges related to data analytics in four key areas—student outcomes, equity and inclusion, resource strategies, and infrastructure—and also includes examples of promising practices by institutions and systems that are leveraging data in novel and effective ways.

The paper grows out of a May 2017 ACE day-long convening attended by college and university presidents, other campus and higher education thought leaders, and analytics experts that explored data challenges facing postsecondary leaders as they seek to improve student outcomes, promote equity and inclusion, and create more sustainable organizational models. 

It notes that the use of data analytics has yet to be fully embraced by institutional leaders, citing data from the American College President Study 2017 that only 12 percent of presidents ranked the use of institutional research and evidence among the top five areas of growing importance for presidents in the future.

Some of the obstacles to more institutions making more advanced use of data include: varied data quality and poor data connectivity across different parts of institutions; fears over misuse of data; and upfront costs that can impede the development of analytics cultures despite the potential of long-term savings.

Still, the paper states, “the pressure to use data will only grow from this point on. Leaders will need to be well versed in the opportunities and challenges of leveraging data in order to better inform business models centered on student outcomes, equity and inclusion, and optimization.”

In conjunction with the release of the paper, Gagliardi and Philip Wilkinson, a CPRS graduate research associate and a doctoral candidate at the University of Georgia’s Institute of Higher Education, have also co-authored a post on Higher Education Today looking at related issues involving how campuses can better use resources to serve their missions. To read that post, click here​.

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