As Big Data proliferates, colleges are poised to take advantage of a wealth of data-driven insights, but many lack the analytics skills to do so. As a result, institutions outsource analytics or, more often, fail to leverage information they already possess. That means many could be overlooking meaningful trends or making strategic and operating decisions without the benefit of solid information.
“Schools are beginning to use data and analytics (D&A) to enhance areas such as enrollment, budgeting and fundraising,” according to “Embracing Innovation,” KPMG’s 2015-2016 Higher Education Industry Outlook Survey of 102 senior higher education leaders. “But many survey respondents indicated that their schools do not have the internal resources to best leverage D&A to achieve maximum benefit.”
According to KPMG’s report, 36 percent of colleges have sufficient data, but outsource analytics because they lack that skill internally. Fewer than a third, 29 percent, have both sufficient data and the resources to analyze it for strategic and operating decisions. And 22 percent say they have sufficient data but fail to incorporate it effectively in decision making.
Colleges also report concerns about D&A, from ensuring data quality to leveraging data most effectively. Those that do attempt to use D&A in decision making often encounter challenges: data resides across various functions (60 percent), quality is poor (40 percent) and the need to adopt new or advanced analytics techniques (39 percent).
An April 2015 white paper from Oracle, “Improving Higher Education Performance with Big Data,” points to diverse use cases that could drive D&A initiatives, from student acquisition and retention to research optimization to operational efficiency.
Yet according to the KPMG survey, only 41 percent of colleges use data for forecasting and predictive analytics and just 29 percent for strategic and operating decisions. Another 42 percent apply D&A to fundraising.
Higher ed’s dilemma reflects a larger trend in the labor market. Communities Digital News in January predicted that 2016 will bring “soaring demand” for professionals skilled in data analytics.
“The significance of data analytics professionals has been stressed by the fact that data is useless without analysis skills,” Vincent Stokes writes. “Compared to previous years, there will be more job opportunities in data analytics and big data management in the future. IT professionals should be prepared to invest time and money in the training.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics backs that up, predicting that employment of statisticians will grow 34 percent between 2014 and 2024. Not surprisingly, the bureau notes, that is “much faster than the average for all occupations.”