Judy Miner and Joe Moreau on Analytics [podcast]

min read
Community Conversations | Season 1, Episode 2 | Originally recorded on 8/24/2021

Every institution has to decide when the importance of using analytics becomes bigger than the doubts and hesitations.

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John O'Brien: Welcome to another community conversation from EDUCAUSE. Today, I'm joined by the chancellor and the CIO at Foothill-De Anza Community College District. Welcome, Judy. Welcome, Joe. I wanted to start with a goofy recollection. So, I remember back in 2012, there was an interview in EDUCAUSE review, and it was about analytics, and the title was "No more excuses." And it makes me think, every institution has to reach a point where they decide that the imperative to do analytics becomes bigger than the hesitations, and the doubts, and the questions. When did you reach that point at Foothill-De Anza?

Judy Miner: I would say, that we really began a deep dive into analytics probably after the great recession in 2009. It forced us, because of the drops in enrollments and just a number of other demographic changes in Silicon Valley, for us to begin thinking about our place in the larger social context.

John O'Brien: Nationally, community colleges are under a certain amount of stress these days, financially everyone is, in terms of enrollments, community colleges are feeling that strain more than ever. How do you make the case for investing in analytics and data at a time when resources are at a low?

Judy Miner: When I think about making a case for data analytics and the cost that's there, I'd like to start by saying, if we agree as a community on our institutional values and goals, then data and participatory governance are essential elements in achieving those goals. So, evidence based strategies will certainly be compelling, but highly inclusive dialogue and even debate will create more commitment to and ownership of the work to be done at the operational level.

Joe Moreau: I'd like to add to that, John. The biggest investment that we need to be prepared to make is time. For most institutions, we have gobs of data, we have the tools to visualize that data, to report on that data. But, developing a culture of data ingestion, if you will, by all of those governance groups, and planning groups, and management groups, and really making the time to understand what the data says, to challenge it if we don't agree, but to be prepared to be surprised. And we need to put in the time to understand what our data is telling us.

John O'Brien: And Joe, I'm going to ask you, pretend your boss isn't in the room. Could you have done it without buy-in from the top?

Joe Moreau: No. The CEO of our institution and certainly of any institution has an enormous impact on how that culture shifts, by having that leadership, and by saying, "Look folks, this is the institution we need to be for our students. And this is the culture that will deliver that." We can have all the tools in the world, but if the culture doesn't embrace them, then they're not much good to us.

John O'Brien: We published a statement along with NACUBO, and the Association for Institutional Research, and it's chained with analytics.com. And in it, we said that, "If you're going to do analytics, those initiatives should be driven by specific outcomes, the specific results you want." I'm curious, what were your top outcomes that you were hoping to change with analytics?

Judy Miner: I would have to say, that the goals that we have at Foothill-De Anza are really about student access and success. So, I would put, maybe at the top of the list, our dual mission of transfer and employability, as a function of our transfer preparation and our career technical education programs. Those are equally important to us. And they're not necessarily mutually exclusive, even though some people might view it that way.

Certainly, having an increase in the diversity of the students who go into various areas, where we have had an underrepresenation, whether it's around ethnicity, or gender, or ability, or gender identity, that's really important to us that we prepare the most diverse population of students for the world that they are entering, as workers. And I would say, in the third area that I would want to look at is that cultural shift for the institution. I think, it's really important having picked up on something that Joe has said, about being surprised by data. I really like that approach, that we may discover things that we didn't know about the way we're operating. And so, to be very open, to say the data need to inform ways that we would change. And not just looking for the support for opinions that we've held, or practices that we've had in the institution, in a very traditional way.

John O'Brien: One of the things that I've found particularly interesting, and inspiring about your approach to data and analytics is your looking at it in the context of social justice. And, I'd love to hear you share some of your insights about that.

Judy Miner: I will try to confine my comments within a reasonable amount of time, because tying analytics to social justice is just at the heart of what I believe we need to do as institutions. Foothill-De Anza had a strong history of courageous and uncomfortable conversations around student equity. And now, we need to build on the stated commitments to increase student access and success, through genuine institutional transformation. I believe, our best chance to achieve ambitious goals is to use analytics to identify the problems to be solved, and then subsequently identify the best solutions. Our major challenge to becoming a more equitable institution is addressing what I see as the intersection of institutional racism, student basic needs, and access to technology. And by institutional racism, I mean our own policies and procedures that may have unintended consequences, because we have never assessed disparate impact on certain populations.

One example I can give you, I applaud the libraries at Foothill-De Anza, who changed their approach to library fines and associated sanctions, after considering the reasons why the poorest students tended to incur the most fines. And the policy revisions would never have occurred had the faculty and staff not seriously listened to student stories, reviewed the data, and then reflected on their own agency to remove an institutional barrier. And when I refer to basic needs, I mean housing, hunger, and mental health. Affordable housing for student and even our employees has been a more glaring problem in Silicon Valley since the great recession. And the pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity, and mental health crises. Among our immediate responses, our district passed a general obligation bond to include a $200 million earmark for housing partnerships. Our foundation has done substantial fundraising to support the college food pantries and food vouchers. And, the colleges have expanded mental health services.

But for the long term, we need to understand the most effective ways to engage in regional partnerships, with agencies and organizations who are best equipped to address student basic needs. And I come back to the issue of research and data analytics there to help guide the work that we do and hugely complex problems. Clearly, it's about the region, it's out the state, it's about the nation. And, when I refer to access to technology, I want us to be mindful that it is important, but not sufficient, to just provide devices and wifi to students, because they may be studying in physical spaces that are not conducive to learning. So, with our ongoing return to campus activities, improving wifi connectivity to increase more study spaces is a top priority. And again, we will need to conduct further research into student needs regarding access to technology.

Joe Moreau: One of the important things that we're going to need to get really good at is micro analytics. We're going to need to be able to take regular, small snapshots of student experiences, in order for us to advance our agenda around social justice and student basic needs. And, in some ways, we may need to really look to the commercial sector, look at those strategies that they use to evaluate customer service and customer satisfaction. So, we might say to our students, "You recently had an interaction with admissions and records, or financial aid, or counseling and advising, or what have you... How was that for you? Did you get what you needed? If not, how can we make that better?" And, to really take those small views of what students are doing on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. Because I think, the insight that we gain from that may be far more valuable than an annual student satisfaction survey, or participating in a national student engagement survey project, or something of that sort.

John O'Brien: I really am inspired by what you're saying. I just want to say, I'm look forward to that being part of a longer conversation. And, having said that, everything in higher education is complex. So, on the one hand, you're drawing these amazing connections between analytics and data as a way to advance social justice. On the other hand, there's quite a few headlines these days about data and analytics contributing to injustice, whether it's algorithmic bias, or privacy. How do you balance those two possibilities?

Joe Moreau: That is the challenge of the 21st century. There's two sides to this coin. The one side is, our students, our faculty, our staff come to us and say, "Why didn't you know this about me? Why didn't you know this was happening in my program, in my department, in my life? Why didn't you do something proactively to make things better for me?" At the same time, if we do some of those things, the other side of that coin is, "Well, who asked you to do that? That's an invasion in my privacy."

And so, I think that the thing that will help us strike that balance is, again, going back to this notion of institutional culture, and devising a culture of agility and responsibility to say, "Here's a place where I think we need to concentrate. How far can we go before it is no longer helpful, and becomes invasive? And, how do we need to adjust that?" And it certainly will not be a one size fits all scenario. What might be helpful to another student may be invasive to one, and vice versa. And so, our ability to understand that, and adjust our approach will be absolutely primary to our ability to use data responsibly and successfully.

Judy Miner: I do think the balance between privacy and the information that we would need to improve the institution is very much a part of institutional culture. And, I'm proud of the confidence that I think we can have in our faculty and staff to responsibly use information. I think, we have safeguards in our policies and procedures as to who has access to information. And I do believe that we've done a lot of professional development over the years, in helping people understand, if you will, good, bad uses of data. And, the constant dialogue really that does go on about the meaning of the data that we're reviewing. And, I think very lively debates that go on about whether or not certain data points are significant or not. "Is the N is too small in a particular area to really draw important conclusions?"

The researchers of the two colleges really have done, I think, very rigorous statistical studies in certain areas. And so, when I think about the information regarding the student progress at De Anza College and the California Acceleration Project in mathematics, and what has been done to change faculty strategies in teaching mathematics, and what they have learned about that... There were just some really important learnings out of that, that can translate then to additional professional development for our faculty. But, protecting the faculty identity in looking at the analysis of sections, in order to understand the difference in strategies for the same section that may go across quieter. I mean, literally thousands of students over a period of time. I think, we're there in respecting what we need to do for privacy, for students, and our staff.

John O'Brien: Judy in your case, here you are a chancellor with ambitions about using data and analytics for good. You have plans, you have ideas. What advice would you give to CIOs who are working with someone like you? What do you need from your CIO to support this important and sometimes challenging work?

Judy Miner: I think, it's important for a very close working relationship between the CEO and the CIO, particularly for the CIO to understand what is the end result that the CEO is looking for with those data analytics? And, what is the context within the institutional culture for getting there? Because, it's not enough to be right about the endpoint. So much in academia is about process, it's about inclusion, it's about transparency of decision-making. And, for the CIO to be able to be there, to help facilitate that. To be involved in the larger work of the colleges, the district. One of the things I am so grateful about in having Joe Morrow as my thought partner in all of this, is he is a true educator. And, I know from talking to counterparts in other districts, they envy me because they may feel that their own CIO is much narrower, in the sense of the role that he or she might play within in the institution.

And so, Joe always has, as his focus, student learning and student outcomes, and that's really where I am. And the equity lens that he has now been bringing to his job, that I've seen evolve over the years, and the contribution that he's made that way in the conversation for the CIOs statewide, for the California Community Colleges, and even some conversations that have been with the CSU and the UC counterparts. I think, that's huge. And so, I would invite the CIOs who would be listening to this to think about a broader sense of their own role. And maybe if they have not been asked by their CEO how to do that, they start that conversation with their CEO.

John O'Brien: Yeah, Joe, I was hearing Judy talk about the talents, and skills, and capabilities of a CIO to support this work. I noticed, the word technology didn't appear in that list. Did you notice that?

Joe Moreau: If a CIO thinks about themselves, first and foremost, as a technologist, they are in fact going to limit their ability to serve their institution. A most successful CIO will, first and foremost, see themselves as an educator, but an educator specializes in technology. Throughout our conversation, we've talked a lot about culture. We have actually talked very little about technology, and going back to some of the research that EDUCAUSE has done about digital transformation and the three primary factors leading to successful transformation of technology, culture, and workforce. Really, the culture is the hard part, getting that right, and doing it in a way that produces benefits to students, faculty, and staff, and the broader community, is really the challenge. So, a CIO who is not focused on cultural issues in their role will be limited in their effectiveness.

This episode features:

Judy Miner
Foothill-De Anza Community College District

Joe Moreau
Vice Chancellor of Technology
Foothill-De Anza Community College District

John O'Brien
President and CEO