Why every leader needs data skills—and 4 ways to build them

Higher education leaders cite data literacy as one of the biggest barriers to their vision of a data-enabled campus, especially when it comes to making decisions to promote student outcomes.

Despite this, many continue to feel intimidated by data.

Leaders who avoid building their data literacy can miss out on important insights and opportunities, Alexandra Samuel writes in the Wall Street Journal. She shares advice for building your data skills, based on her own journey to conquer her "math phobia."

1: Start with something you're passionate about. To overcome your initial discomfort with quantitative projects, start with a project that feels meaningful and stimulating, Samuel suggests. The fresh context can give you a completely different perspective on quantitative lessons.

Common barriers to using data to support student success

2: Force yourself to confront the data. When choosing your project, make sure you choose something that can only be answered with numbers.  You'll be so invested in the solution that you'll forget to be intimidated by the quantitative skills you're learning, Samuel writes. 

3: Ask an expert for help. Find someone within your organization who can check your work before you make big decisions or recommendations, Samuel suggests. This will help you feel more confident about your conclusions and help you avoid embarrassing mistakes.

4: Spread the word. Recruit your colleagues to build their skills alongside you. Samuel notes that studies have found evidence that women have less confidence than men in their science and math skills, and she encourages women to fight this "confidence gap" by building their data literacy (Samuel, Wall Street Journal, 11/26).

3 more ways to close your data literacy divide


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