Why one college created a full analytics office

'We knew we had to take what we had left and invest in the priority: analytics'

The president of the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) says the new analytics office is paying off—and he offers key lessons for launching your own analytics team, too.

The open access college has 85,000 students and faces the same issues as many other institutions: decreasing funding and increasing student success.

"We have less than 10% of revenue coming from the state and had a 50% decline in enrollments in 2012. We had to cut $60 million from the budget and fire 300 people, and that's when we knew we had to take what we had left and invest in the priority: analytics," said President Javier Miyares in a session at EDUCAUSE 2015. 

Now, the school has the Office of Analytics, comprising a team of 14 people. The office focuses on marketing, enrollment management, retention, service centers, financials, and executive and academic program dashboards.

In the last four years, persistence rates at the school climbed four percentage points and course completion rates grew by seven percentage points.

"Our approach is to demonstrate the 'art of possible' to the institution," says Darren Catalano, VP of Analytics, "in other words, to make complex data simple."

And the office follows several rules to do that:

1. Stay organized.

The office at UMUC focuses on internal organization to ensure it doesn't just become a report repository but rather a useful source of information for various departments.

"For example, combining event data with enrollment and seeing how these relate to retention by examining whether or not what initially attracts a student to the college is still what keeps them there post-enrollment," Catalano says.

2. Focus on clarity.

Creating easily understandable and actionable reports helped the Office of Analytics win the trust of senior leaders and faculty members at UMUC, Miyares explains.

"You have to make clear, especially to faculty, that decisions should be based on data and that this data will be shared and accessible," he says.

3. Share the information.

Miyares recommends embracing transparency and giving various departments the opportunity to use the office's data. He sends updates to all departments every morning, updating them on new student numbers, course completion rates, persistence, and revenues.

4. Track—and highlight—success.

Miyares justified the office's budget by showing the CFO the revenues it saved. At UMUC, the Office of Analytics improved recruitment targeting and spending, leading to a 20% jump in new students in fall 2014 and a 20% drop in related expenses (Stansbury, eCampus News, 11/2).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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