Jun 18 2018
Data Center

University Leaders Disagree on How to Use Data Analytics, Survey Finds

Experts weigh in on how different high ed IT teams need to collaborate to make the best use of Big Data.

Data analytics programs are front and center in higher education IT strategies. A recent survey of 200 higher education leaders, conducted by research consultancy Ovum on behalf of education software firm Ellucian, found that if institutions don’t already have some form of analytics-driven initiative in place (and 61 percent do), they are either planning or implementing one. A tiny 1 percent of respondents isn’t considering a data analytics program at all.

Although nearly all institutions have or want to adopt data-driven programs, there’s a significant divide among university leadership on the goals of these programs.

In the survey, presidents, CFOs and CIOs wanted to use data analytics to improve learning outcomes. Provosts prioritized student retention and degree completion. And CTOs valued using data to improve operational efficiency.

Disagreement on priorities is just one barrier. Another sticking point is the unwillingness of various departments to share their data with the rest of the institution. The survey found, and other experts agree, that often data isn’t shared because individual departments fear a loss of power or believe that their data will be misused.

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Experts Offer Tips on How to Overcome Data Analytics Barriers

Despite the issues that can impede a data analytics programs, many institutions are making strides and offer guidance on launching and growing successful data initiatives. For example:

  • Miriam Greenberg, director of education and communications for the Harvard Strategic Data Project, says that it’s critical to build relationships across data silos. “I have seen very often that IT teams are divorced from the research and evaluation teams, and there’s almost a little bit of a battle around who gets the data, who owns it and who governs it,” she says in an article for EdTech. “It needs to be a joint, collaborative effort. There are a lot of examples of where that happens really well. Those should be held up as a model for what progressive schools can do.”
  • At last year’s EDUCAUSE conference, Brad Wheeler, vice president for IT at Indiana University, talked to EdTech about cleaning up “data laundry” and the issues caused by using data from different departments. “A lot of the data that we have is too dirty to use,” he says. “It wasn’t made for that purpose, so it has to be cleaned and prepared. The key thing is, how do we turn data into information…and put that information into context so that a decision-maker can use it.”
  • Dave Doucette, director of West Coast higher education sales for CDW, has seen higher education institutions develop data analytics programs that have a direct impact on the bottom line. For example, organizations are using analytics to streamline fundraising and the admissions process, as well as better market and communicate with students and keep them safe.

As the growth of data-driven decision-making continues, most university leaders would agree that sharing data within universities and building better data analytics programs are key to success. “Every college and university has to become better at making decisions,” says Wheeler in his interview. “Everyone has to get involved in some way in taking the data that’s available to them, turning it into information and getting it to the right decision-makers."

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