Corporate Conversations: Gartner on Using Data and Analytics Together for Student Success

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Gartner Group Vice President Steve Wenc talks about ways campuses can harness data for student success.

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Steve Wenc
Group Vice President

Good afternoon. I'm Steve Wenc, the group vice president and head of the practice group in higher education at Gartner, and I'm here to talk to you today about some of the opportunities for colleges and universities to leverage data, which are enormous and growing. The first thing to think about is that it's not just about data. It's critical to think about data and analytics together as a single piece. Think about it this way, what do we do with data? We analyze it to create information that will enable us to make better decisions faster. Data and analytics together give us four very powerful capabilities. The first is descriptive, we can analyze the data to tell us what happened. The second is diagnostic, we can analyze the data to tell us why did something happen. And the third is predictive, we can analyze the data to tell us what will happen. And finally, prescriptive, we can analyze the data to tell us how can we make something happen, or even more importantly, how can we make something happen more quickly, effectively, and efficiently.

Now, that's at a high level, but let's talk for a minute about the three areas that are so important for colleges and universities today. First, powering institutional performance. Data and analytics can help us monitor performance and reduce risk using things like dashboards and informational portals, that give us faster, deeper insight into what happened and why it happened. For example, we can look at how to admit students with a right fit for a particular institution, or we can use it to enhance campus safety in various ways. Secondary is enhancing operational efficiency and data and analytics really shines here. We can use data and analytics to monitor activities within the institution to reveal opportunities and trends, both bright spots, but also potential issues. And we can save on costs by monitoring and analyzing things like utilities costs and facilities usage that can create opportunities for us, both financial, but also operational and practical and for student satisfaction. Finally, improving student success is at the heart of the mission of every college and university, and as a parent of two current college students, it's one that I'm particularly passionate about.

Now, there are increasing opportunities to leverage AI and machine learning to help improve student success, and we can implement predictive and prescriptive analytics to help improve things like enrollment, retention, and graduation rates. For example, we can conduct grade assessments to help provide timely academic support to students who really need it, and we can monitor and analyze employment of students after graduation. We might even be able to tie that back with analytics to things that they did while they were on campus that then led to patterns of more success after graduation.

Now, with all the possibilities, with all the power of data and analytics, there's a few other thoughts that I'd like to leave you with in terms of how to approach it. The first one is that there is no one size fits all. Every institution needs to thoughtfully consider how to customize data and analytics in its approach to fit its particular situation. Beware of a one size fits all trap. And then second is using data and analytics is all about continuous improvement. You can't set it up, forget about it, let it run. You can't fire and forget. You really need to make it part of a continuous loop. That's where analytics and data analytics really shine.

As part of that, a corollary to it, make it part of a continuous process. Build it into the way that you work. Collect the data, analyze it, figure out how to respond and act on it. Take action. Then monitor, see how you're doing, tinker with it, go back to collecting data. Rinse and repeat. That's how you get the most power out of it over time, but it takes some discipline. Finally, make sure that you've got key performance indicators to evaluate what's happening and then make informed decisions. You want to think about those in advance and constantly evaluate whether they're working for you and how you need to adapt to them based on what the analytics and the data are telling you about how things are working.

So finally, there's really an opportunity for every college and university to leverage data analytics to make an impact. It can help you today, it can help you tomorrow. It's really the sort of thing that ought to be a permanent part of how you work as an organization and institution, and as the different parts of it. So take advantage of it, do it the right way, and enjoy the ride.