The Real Frontier: Using Data Effectively

What a perfect day for WSCUC to announce a significant grant from the Lumina Foundation to “advance data-driven inquiry” and “deepen the quality of conversations at the heart of our accreditation decisions and improvement process.” Read the press release

Earlier this week, the Association for Institutional Research (AIR), the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), and EDUCAUSE issued a joint statement entitled, “Analytics Can Save Higher Education. Really.”, urging use of data and analytics to make better strategic decisions. 

And just this morning, Goldie Blumenstyk, citing Jennifer Engle of the Gates Foundation, wrote in The Edge about the need for increased campus capacity to actually use data effectively. An excerpt from the piece is below:

Jennifer Engle, the deputy director for data, measurement, learning, and evaluation at the Gates Foundation, said the problem is not so much a lack of willingness to use the data but “a huge capability issue in our field” because many colleges have yet to develop the in-house expertise to use the data effectively. It helps, she said, when a provost shows up to a meeting, data in hand, “saying, ‘What are we going to do?’’’ But colleges need more than that. They need more people from academic and administrative departments with the data literacy to take the information and use it to pinpoint problems and solutions.

“We spend a lot of time identifying, collecting, and cleaning up the data,” she told me, and “then we don’t have the capacity to use it.”

WSCUC agrees: the real frontier is using data (and leadership and resources) effectively to make decisions that promote student success and equity. The Lumina Foundation grant will help encourage more meaningful, results-driven conversations – on campus, between campus and accreditor, and by accreditors in decision making – that can ultimately help strengthen outcomes and accountability in higher education.