4 data lessons higher ed can learn from business

Innovative institutions make data easier to access and share

Colleges and universities are making strides in their approach to data analytics by mirroring business practices, Robert Dolan Jr. writes for eCampus News.

Higher education has been slowly updating its approach to data management. In the past, analytics tools were slow, fragmented, difficult to understand, and in many cases, restricted to IT departments alone. To tackle these issues, schools across the country looked at how businesses handle their data and borrowed adaptable strategies.

Dolan identifies four ways that innovative colleges approach data management like businesses:

1. Make data accessible

When only the IT department can access data, then faculty, staff, and administrators may spend most of their time waiting for reports to arrive, Dolan writes. He says people outside of the IT department need to have personal and quick access to data on performance, retention, and support, among other metrics to drive change effectively.

The University of Washington (UW), developed the "UW Profiles" in 2012—a project that gives administrators and faculty a set of 23 dashboards with data on a variety of metrics. 

Learn more about using dashboards to get decision makers the information they need

2. Speed up the data

Faster access to data means faster insight. "Just like people are used to finding the answer to a question on their phone, laptop or tablet at home, they [need to] get business or academic answers at work," writes Dolan.

Getting data to users faster means making tools that anyone can use—not just experts. The tools should be easy to learn, quick to deploy, and should empower administrators in different departments to explore their own data.

At the University of Indiana, enrollment and recruiting officers use straightforward dashboards to dive into student data, empowering them to quickly spot trends that once took months to notice.

3. Improve data flexibility and security 

Though self-service analytics tools are extremely useful for enhancing existing data ecosystems, its widespread availability requires heightened security measures. Careful auditing helps schools keep track of who has access to what information.

Carnegie Mellon University kept privacy a top priority when it gave the financial department auditing capabilities using self-service analytics. The security measures have been so successful that they are expanding the capabilities to other units on campus.

4. Make data digestible

This guideline applies in many areas of life; when people can't make sense of the data they're looking at, they can't use it to make improvements.

Self-service data software tackles this issue using research-based visualizations, which take the data and display it in a way that's easy to understand.

At the University of Texas at Austin, this tactic helped the university expand in the most efficient manner to accommodate over 52,000 students and 11,000 faculty members. Visuals framed data on human, physical, financial, and geographical elements of business development in a digestible way, ultimately making it possible to expand the school while shrinking budgets (Dolan, eCampus News, 9/29).

Related: How to go from data to decisions

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