Four ways college leaders can use data better

Consult the data daily

A new study brief from the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) highlights data issues on college and university leaders' minds. 

For the last six months, IHEP and New America researchers interviewed members of IHEP's Senior Institutional Leadership Council to gain insight into how college administrators currently use data to improve student outcomes.

Based on the findings, the report makes four recommendations for leaders.

1. Set the tone: Senior administrators should lead by example to create a culture that references data in every step of the decision making process. Use data daily and encourage others to do so as well.

While all members of the council said they consult data on a daily bases, they did so on varying levels of sophistication.

At California State University, Fullerton, for example, a data dashboard updates each night and alerts advisers if a students is at risk of falling behind.

Other administrators called themselves "data-minded" but gave no examples of direct use.  

2. Make sure everyone gets involved: Spread data responsibilities across your campus to ensure everyone has access. Administrators and institutional researchers alike should be a part of the data reviewing process.

"Institutional research capacity plays an important—but not imperative—role in senior leaders' ability to use data to answer their institutional improvement questions," the report reads. "More important than IR capacity is the collaborative relationship between IR and institutional leadership."

3. Incorporate external sources: The report authors recommend using federal and state data in conjunction with the numbers from your own campus.

"Understanding student success—before, during, and after college—is a universal priority to the SILC membership, and participants expressed a strong desire for data on academic preparation, learning outcomes, continuing education, employment, and earnings," according to the report.

See more resources on using data to support student outcomes

4. Make your voice heard: Many campus leaders say they support a federal student data system, but not all participate in national discussions on the topic.

"Some SILC participants expressed interest in advocating more strongly for national data infrastructure improvements, including a student-level data system, while others feared speaking publicly about it because they were hesitant to side against their national associations," the report says (Rorison/Voight, Institute for Higher Education Policy report, 4/2016. 

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