Jan 03 2017

As Analytics Matures, Applications Diversify Beyond Retention

Colleges leverage analytics software to drive improvements in business and financial operations.

Interest in analytics is growing on higher education campuses, as evidenced by the emerging role of chief data officers, investment in analytics solutions and maturing approaches to student privacy.

One of the most prevalent applications is the use of predictive analytics in student recruitment and retention. Purdue University and other institutions are finding ways to identify student behaviors that support academic success or, conversely, indicate that a student is struggling and would benefit from an intervention. Purdue, for example, is capturing data points around grades, degree progress, interaction with the course management system and use of certain campus locations, as evidenced by ID card swipes. The university then analyzes that information in concert with the LMS and other systems.

Some of the most effective retention initiatives achieve success by focusing on specific targets. Honolulu Community College, for example, recently piloted a program focused on retaining students who are underrepresented in STEM fields. The program brings together data from several sources into an early-alert system that helps to keep these students in class and on track.                   

Financial Insights Direct from Data Capture

As many institutions achieve success with academic-oriented analytics, others are leveraging the data capture and dashboarding capabilities provided by analytics software to deepen their insights into business and financial operations. Often, these capabilities permit a level of visibility across systems — and across silos — that was previously impossible, as IT teams sought to capture data in different formats, from different sources.

Stanford University is using analytics to fight fraud and reduce waste, a significant concern for a procurement office handling more than 1 million transactions annually and $2.2 billion in disbursements. Manual monitoring of that many transactions was impractical, so the university prioritized audits based on federal regulations and internal policies. However, that still left 50 to 60 percent of business expenses without a close review.

Analytics first came onto the radar through Stanford’s external auditors, who were using data software to glean insights and identify trends that had eluded manual reviewers. Stanford’s chief procurement officer said that prompted the university to adopt its own analytics program. It can now review every payment and, in the future, will be able to use algorithms and machine learning to identify potentially fraudulent activity and cost-sav ing opportunities.

Strategic Decision-Making Is Data-Driven

At the University of Maryland University College, the Office of Analytics expanded its role on campus to become a strategic partner in senior-level decision making. It achieved that milestone primarily by maintaining a proactive focus on building data dashboards that leaders could use to inform policy changes. Today, the university has reoriented its culture to elevate the role of data-driven decision-making throughout operational management.

University College's effort was so successful, in fact, that the university system’s Board of Regents approved a plan to spin off that office into a new company, HelioCampus. It’s now providing analytics services and consulting to universities nationwide. The university system’s Board of Regents pledged to earmark the company’s profits for scholarship programs.

Supporting the University’s Mission

An article in Trusteeship magazine noted: “Technology makes it possible for colleges and universities to collect reams of data about their own fiscal and operational performance — data that can be massaged and scrutinized to reap rich insights that can drive efficiencies and improve performance on the administrative side.”

As colleges continue to find new ways to leverage data and related dashboards, more wide-ranging, sophisticated applications will emerge that enable institutions to better carry out their missions. Student retention initiatives are likely to remain a major area of focus, and rightfully so. But using data analytics to drive improvements and efficiencies across the board will also pay dividends in the service of education.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.


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