May 29 2020

IT Can Pioneer Solutions to Nontraditional Problems in Higher Ed

In the quest to better define and measure student success and deliver more value to universities as a whole, IT pros have a golden opportunity.

The problems faced by higher education today are, in many ways, unprecedented. As universities and colleges grapple with how to maintain instruction and operations amid a global health pandemic, the traditional four-year university business model faces fundamental challenges.

Even in the face of dramatic changes to how instruction is delivered to students, defining and measuring student success remains a critical mandate for institutions of higher learning around the country and the world. Today more than ever, universities are increasingly measured by the technological resources they provide to students and how they support those students in using them.

People across the board agree that technology and IT experts are critical—both to the universities establishing the standards and the students hoping to meet them. This heightened emphasis on student success—and the need to define and measure it—offers a prime opportunity for IT professionals to position themselves as strategic partners and critical decision-makers.

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Navigating an Ocean of Student Success Data

Even without a concrete definition of benchmarks for student success, higher education has never been better poised to prioritize and measure it. Today, universities have access to a ready and rapidly flowing stream of data, allowing them to gather metrics on everything from recruitment to retention and academics. 

The problem? Navigating through an ocean of information can seem even more daunting than the problems we hope to solve with it. But it has to be done if higher ed hopes to create benchmarks for measuring student success. Lacking that, these programs stand to miss out on some of the most valuable tools available to them and, subsequently, all the benefits and successes that come with them. 

IT: A Strategic Partner in Student Success

For university IT professionals, this is a perfect starting point to actively influence and guide student success programs. Whether choosing analytics software or determining the most relevant metrics, those tasked with shaping student success programs need frequent and expert guidance that IT leaders are best poised to provide.

Universities today are optimizing their data analytics programs using real-time dashboards that gather and update student profiles using multiple data points, from financial information to academic performance, so that advisers and faculty can provide better support. At Dartmouth College, for instance, IT teams use real-time data collection tools to inform instructional design. Through real-time analytics applications, teams can study metrics including attrition rates, course enrollment sizes and student performance to redesign courses based on students’ needs. 

Crossing the Finish Line: Heading Student Attrition Off at the Pass

You might not traditionally think of IT as playing a role in academic pursuits, but, then again, IT in higher education can no longer afford to be traditional.

As students face heavy workloads and are saddled with ever-increasing financial debt, attrition rates have grown, coinciding with a decline in graduation rates. Informed by better data gleaned working side by side with IT pros, however, faculty members can identify red flags that could indicate a student risks failing a class or dropping out of school entirely. Consider Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania, which in 2012 launched a program enabling faculty to monitor students’ progress and be alerted to behaviors that showed students were at risk. The program also provided students with an educational planning tool allowing them to map out their entire degree programs, along with a dashboard for managing their financial aid. 

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“As a result, the college saw increases in full- and part-time persistence for new and continuing students,” according to an article first published in Strategic Enrollment Management Quarterly. “In addition, the college experienced an 8% increase in persistence from fall to spring, and a 7% increase from fall to fall.” 

Getting the Right Answers Requires Asking the Right Questions

You don’t know what you don’t know — especially without the data you need to prompt good questions in the first place. Information technology is a complicated creature, but in an educational landscape more dependent than ever on data (and those who know how to use it), this is an ideal time for IT teams to demonstrate not only their expertise but the value they can add to student success programs on both a daily and a strategic level.

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

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