What Data Can and Can't Do For Your University, Part 2

What Data Can and Can’t Do For Your University, Part 2

Data and reporting capabilities are essential for higher education as universities grapple with the challenges of changing public expectations, increasing accountability to multiple stakeholders, uncertainty surrounding funding and ensuring that the education students receive prepares them to be future thinkers, workers and citizens. But in a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Mark Salisbury, assistant dean and director of institutional research and assessment at Augustana College in Illinois, noted that “[d]espite all the cheerleading that seems to have accompanied big data’s arrival on campus, its promise to transform higher education continues to surge well ahead of its supporting evidence.” So what can and can’t data do for your university?

In the first post in this series, we shared five important benefits of implementing a data solution on campus, and took a deep dive into the benefit that you’ll feel first—efficiency. Here, we’ll look more closely at how the right data solution will ease reporting for accreditors and other stakeholders, discuss the importance of improved data quality for your campus and explore how  to measure the impact of your institution on your students, community and the world.

Ease Accreditation and Other Reporting

Reporting requirements for many stakeholders, from professional and regional accreditors to state legislatures and federal funding sources, continue to grow in complexity, and the bar for accuracy is high. Gathering the information needed to provide accurate and timely reporting to these stakeholders from binders, file cabinets and departmental spreadsheets is onerous and time consuming.

Find the Stories that Matter to StakeholdersBut gathering this data in one place means it’s at your fingertips when needed. The reporting capabilities of the right database will allow you to pull the same data into reports for a range of requirements without asking for information again from your department chairs or faculty. They will also ensure that calculations are made the same way year over year, so your reports are not only easier to assemble, they’re also reliable.

Accreditation and other reporting from your data solution requires some an upfront investment in considering what you’ll need from your system so you can be sure you’re collecting the data you need to calculate the information that satisfies an accreditor’s or funder’s requirements. Then, you’ll set up the reports that will turn the raw data from your system into the answers needed to satisfy a particular stakeholder.

What does this mean from a practical perspective? Consider the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) reporting required of land-grant universities. NIFA supports initiatives that advance agriculture-related sciences, and look to institutions they fund to report on their research, education and extension programs. Learn how a data solution helped Purdue University improve its NIFA reporting.

The right data solution for higher education will have pre-built reports or build custom reports to meet your accreditation requirements. Learn how Johns Hopkins University and California State University-Los Angeles used a data solution for Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) reporting, and how Abilene Christian University used a data solution to ease (SACS) accreditation.

Increase Data Accuracy

There are four dimensions to data quality:

  • Completeness, or the measure of whether data needed to feed your reports are present in the system
  • Consistency in data collection, so all the activities of a certain type are entered the same way, in a single source field and that they can consistently be extracted to feed any report that requires the information
  • Currency, or how up to date your data are, and therefore how current your reports using that data will be
  • Accuracy, which depends entirely on what happens on your campus

Your data solution provider should be able to measure the first three of these criteria and guide you through improving them. But when it comes to data accuracy, a data solution can provide the framework for entering data in the most useful format. The best data solutions will also allow you to draw data from other systems, including those on campus as well as other data repositories.

The time savings here is obvious—enter a faculty member’s credentials into the human resources system on campus and the faculty activity reporting system can use that data rather than requiring that each faculty member to enter it again.

The hidden benefit of drawing data from existing systems is improved accuracy. For example, importing faculty publication citations rather than asking faculty to input them ensures the citation is accurate—no typos, all contributors listed, etc.—and no citations are missing because busy faculty forgot to enter them. Learn how University of California-Merced and the University of South Dakota eased the faculty data entry burden and increased data quality. And learn more about best practices for improving data quality.

Measure Impacts

What is your institution doing, and what difference does it make? Answers to both are possible, and go a long way to ensuring you have the data and reporting needed to satisfy stakeholders. Let’s take a look at both parts of this question:

    1. What is your institution doing? This question is easy to answer—once you have the data. Consider the information you need in order to demonstrate a point in your strategic plan or accreditation review, such as cultural diversity. What data would help you measure and evaluate this across your institution? Make sure your data solution has a data field or fields in which to capture that data.
    2. What difference does it make? This question is much more difficult, but knowing what you need to report makes it possible to collect the needed data and structure reports that provide meaningful information on the impact your institution has on its community, state and world. This matters both for accreditation and for reporting to funding sources that want to know what difference their money made.

Learn how Purdue University and New Mexico State University use faculty activity data collection and reporting to measure the impact of their Extension programs on the people of their states and around the globe. Learn how North Dakota State University and the University of St. Thomas in Houston measure and report on the impact of faculty’s teaching, research and service for Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accreditation.

In the third and final post in this series, we’ll discuss whether a data solution can really help to transform your university, and your role in ensuring that a data solution realizes its full potential to benefit your institution.

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