When institutions begin to look at their data as an institutional asset, not departmental property, they unlock the true potential of advanced analytics systems. Even more important, they elevate students over siloes and begin to change a culture that made sense in an analog world but now stands in the way of digital transformation.
In an April 2018 Ellucian survey of higher education leaders' attitudes and actions regarding advanced analytics, we see more and more recognition of the value they bring to institutional governance. Of respondents, 61 percent reported that they have implemented an analytics program at their institution to date. Only 1 percent reported that they do not have and are not considering an analytics program.
Given the recent push for more data-informed decision-making on campus, it's no surprise that higher education analytics continue to gain traction. What is surprising is the type of analytics solution that some institutions are choosing to implement. According to the survey, just under half of the institutions actively engaged in an analytics program opted for departmental systems that are walled off from one another, rather than enterprise systems that leverage data from across the campus.
That figure stands out for a number of reasons, the most glaring of which is that departmental systems tend to exacerbate the financial and technical barriers to adoption that presidents, provosts, CFOs, and CIOs all cited as two of their top three most significant obstacles.
Individual departmental systems are costly and time-consuming, as each department is often forced to pay for everything from licensing to maintenance to training. At the same time, departmental systems often do not provide out-of-the-box integrations with major ERP, SIS, and CRM systems—which increases overall cost and stretches time to value, because the institution must build (or pay to build) integrations to get the source data to the analytics tool.
So why are so many colleges and universities still opting for the departmental approach?
The answer lies in what survey respondents cited as the most significant cultural barrier to adoption of all: an unwillingness to share data across departments and colleges. Ultimately, it is generations of cultural norms that are leading some colleges and universities down the wrong analytics path. And if a traditionally siloed culture is to blame, one has to ask: Is it better to fit analytics strategy to business practices, or to evolve our business practices for the interconnected nature of student service today?
The Case for Culture Shift
Imagine an advisor who has no access to student data outside the academic sphere that can impact performance, such as a financial aid hold or a residence life issue. Imagine an administrator who can't plan for the coming semester because he or she is waiting for enrollment reports from the admissions office. Or imagine trying to manage a campus-wide student support initiative like Guided Pathways [https://www.ellucian.com/Insights/Building-guided-pathways/] without the ability to draw data from all the disparate schools and functions that play a role.
This is the reality many campuses grapple with every day. And it's not just an analytics issue; it's a matter of providing the best student experience possible. Their views on the sharing of data aside, modern faculty, staff, and administrators expect to have the information they need to serve students effectively. And modern students don't just appreciate that level of support; they have come expect it.
Right now, 97 percent of students say technology outside the classroom is as important as technology inside the classroom. And 98 percent say that they want their institutions to use their personal data to improve academic services processes across campus. In fact, when students were asked to pick the industry best able to leverage personal information to improve the experience, higher education ranks first—ahead of health care, financial services, and all the other sectors they routinely engage.
If students spent their entire college or university experience within one department or function, a siloed departmental data structure might be able to meet their evolving expectations. But no such students exist. They take courses across the institution. They eat in the dining hall. They go to the library. They stop by the career center. In each and every one of these activities, they provide data that can be leveraged to improve their experience and chances at success. And forward-thinking institutions are taking notice.
Just look at what some colleges and universities are doing on retention. Institutions are looking at metrics like meal plan usage, SIS logins, library trips, and a host of other behaviors to analyze how they impact success. Institutions are studying performance across different demographics of students—such as working parents—to better understand where they need the most support. And some are even going one step further with predictive analytics that enable institutions to engage students the moment they start showing signs that performance may slip.
Under a departmental analytics structure, none of the above are possible without a massive reporting effort that would drain administrative resources across the campus. But when institutions begin to look at their data as an institutional asset, not departmental property, they unlock the true potential of advanced analytics systems that are only as powerful as the information they can access. Even more important, they elevate students over siloes and begin to change a culture that made sense in an analog world but now stands in the way of digital transformation.
The Need for Effective Leadership
If realizing the myriad benefits of enterprise analytics requires a shift in culture, then any successful implementation has to start with strong leadership—and not just from the CIO. Presidents, provosts, deans, and even boards of trustees need to help win the buy-in from campus communities that have grown accustomed to siloes and may fight to maintain the status quo.
There are change management issues to navigate, new business practices to adopt, and the need to train the people who must master powerful new tools. Most important, there is the need to communicate the fact that technologies have changed, student expectations have changed, and the institution must change as well in order to keep pace.
In any organization, nothing is harder to change than culture. But when organizations succeed in helping their people take new approaches to work, they often find themselves newly aligned to their mission, their goals, and the outcomes they seek to achieve. In higher education, those outcomes are all about students—and today, superior student service means understanding that the entire enterprise is in it together.
James Willey is Senior Vice President of Product Management at Ellucian.
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