What Data Can and Can't Do For Your University, Part 3

What Data Can and Can’t Do For Your University, Part 3

Data, and the ability to analyze and report on it, can transform universities. 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? To answer that question, we’ll explore how you can use information from your data solution to transform your institution. We’ll also discuss your role in ensuring that your data solution delivers on its potential benefits at your university. This is the third post in a series—previous posts dove into other benefits of a data solution, including increased efficiency, easier accreditation and other reporting, improved data quality and measuring impact.

Transform the Institution

Data alone won’t transform an institution. But when a university is committed to continuous improvement, and uses data to drive insight and decision-making, transformation is possible. Consider Fayetteville State University: during the 2008 economic recession, FSU lost 22 percent of its state funding and cut 150 faculty positions as the costs and benefits of the University of North Carolina system came under public scrutiny. To survive, FSU had to improve its degree productivity on a substantially reduced budget. FSU used information from its faculty activity reporting solution to increase degree productivity from 15 percent in 2008 to 21 percent in 2015, earning the American Council on Education (ACE) 2016 Award for Institutional Transformation.

This success required a cultural shift within the university. Chancellor James Anderson worked in concert with faculty to develop metrics for evaluating departments on their own terms, then codified those metrics to ensure evidence-based decision making and outcomes assessment. Using the carrot of additional funding to departments who showed the most improvement, Anderson and FSU continue down the path of real transformation informed by sound data and reporting.

Choose a Partner, Not a VendorFSU isn’t alone. Utah State University’s Jon M. Huntsman School of Business began using faculty activity reporting software to improve its AACSB accreditation reporting. The university as a whole saw the value and adopted the software campus-wide, now using it for annual reviews, accreditation reporting and reporting on its land-grant mission.

USU’s interim provost Laurens Smith reports that the greatest advantage of faculty activity reporting is that it fosters honesty and clarity. “It tells an honest story about what’s happening in your unit,” Smith said. “How many of us have had a department head come in and share stories about how great things are going to justify more funding or more faculty? Now, we hit a button and see the data. It’s a level playing field, and we can make much more informed decisions.”

Transformation isn’t just “nice to do”—sometimes it’s mandated. Learn how the University of Kansas used a data solution to meet new program review reporting requirements from the Kansas Board of Regents.

Data Solution Success Begins With You

Salisbury is right: a data tool alone won’t transform a university. And data is only as good as the consideration given to what you want to learn from your data. Critical questions to ask as you implement a data solution include:

  • What decisions is your institution making? What data would best inform those decisions?
  • What answers does your university require? Can you evaluate progress toward strategic goals? Can you completely and accurately report on information required by accrediting bodies and other stakeholders?

It’s also important to know that with a data solution, you must walk before you run. The more you use your data solution, and the longer you’re gathering data, the more useful it will become. Knowing what you can expect from your data solution at each step of implementation is vital to your success. A path to gathering the data needed for institutional transformation may progress like this:

  • Annual faculty reviews: this requires just one year’s worth of data, allowing everyone to get up to speed entering or importing data into the system before requiring deeper use of the system
  • Accreditation reporting: accreditors and other stakeholders generally require current information, which you have once a year or two of faculty and other data are in the system, allowing for complete reporting on the current state of your institution
  • Faculty web profiles: the right data solution will allow you to populate faculty web profiles with data from the system in real time, giving faculty a good motivation to keep data up to date
  • Promotion and tenure: this requires faculty’s full career of information. With data imports in place and greater familiarity with the system, you have a path to success for getting all of the data needed
  • Continuous improvement and program review: with a wide range of data available, you can build reports that allow you to measure a department or college’s progress toward stated goals

Read more about successfully implementing a data solution. Learn how Kaplan University uses faculty activity reporting to achieve strategic goals, and how  Baylor University uses FAR software to measure mission success.

The data solution you choose is only part of what it takes to turn the statistics of your institution into actionable information. Ultimately, carefully curated data allows you to accurately report on the current state of your university, and chart a course for transformation. But as always, the transformation is up to you.

If you’d like to learn more about how a faculty activity reporting solution can help you fulfill the promise of “big data,” we’d love to talk with you.

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