Now more than ever, data management is critical for higher education institutions. An Educause poll on higher ed interest in student success analytics found that institutions’ top priorities were:

  • Data to inform interventions (79%)
  • LMS engagement data (66%)
  • Student enrollment and performance metrics (65%, 64%)
  • LMS login/attendance data (61%)

While there is wide acceptance of the importance of data and the urgent need for analytics in higher education, many colleges and universities have yet to establish strong data management.

The unfortunate truth is that Institutions can’t make use of the information they’ve gathered if they haven’t made sense of it.

To learn more about prioritizing data management at the collegiate level, we spoke with two of our own experts on the subject: Dan Antonson, Associate Director of Marketing Technology, and Vince Battista, Senior Director of IT Solutions about making data management an achievable goal for your institution.

The problem of data without data management

It’s not that schools aren’t interested in mining their data. But at many schools, data is still limited to reporting.

“There is an overwhelming agreement among higher education senior leadership teams that they need to make ‘data-based decisions’ for the good of the entire university,” Battista says. “This has resonated for the last several years. But the end result is most institutions are realizing that without a solid governance plan for their data, the resulting reports could become worthless as the reliability of the data is questioned,” says Battista.

Data is often siloed in various departments at institutions. It’s spread across customer relationship management (CRM) systems, learning management systems (LMS) and student information systems. Since these disparate systems don’t communicate with each other, it’s hard to realize any value from all that data.

“Universities who want success know that data is an important ingredient,” Antonson adds.

Antonson goes on to explain that as schools spend time navigating silos and the data sprawled across systems, they are underutilizing what could be a critical strategic asset. Other complications are a lack of clear ownership of institutional data and academic leaders’ underestimating the resources it will take to establish strong data procurement.

“It’s a large effort that will take people, time and money to fix,” Battista says. “There seems to be an idea at the senior management level that this is a low-level effort that can be completed in a few weeks.”

How data management can make a difference

Institutional data that is properly collected, stored, protected and processed can yield numerous benefits that boost the ROI of information you already have, such as:

  • Improved retention
  • More effective prospect marketing
  • Enrollment growth

Data management can also help you bridge the gap between departments, like admissions and marketing, where historically data is stored in disparate systems. Building a team approach that integrates all your data and tools can drive stronger outcomes throughout the institution.

“Data management can help institutions better understand the impact of important decisions, as well as develop new approaches that lead to increased student success, greater efficiency and cost-containment, and innovative approaches to everything from teaching and research to facilities management,” Battista offers.

Lastly, schools who prioritize data management and apply their insights have a clear competitive advantage over other institutions.

“Universities who can leverage data to better understand their target audience can not only reach those students more efficiently, but they can reach more of them,” Antonson says.

Not only are schools missing out on potential benefits by neglecting their data, they are also putting themselves at risk long term. Many of the challenges institutions face cannot be tackled without the right information. According to Battista, that affects recruitment, admissions, retention and continued education.

7 Ways to prioritize data management at your institution

It can be hard to know where to start if your institution is really just getting into making sense of the existing information it has. Luckily, Battista and Antonson have some actionable advice for getting serious with data management at your institution. Here are their top tips:

1. Start small

Because there’s so much data readily available in higher ed, it’s easy to fall into initiatives that are too lofty. Pick a priority and start there. If growth is the goal, focus on centralizing and operationalizing CRM and web analytics. If retention is the objective, look to student information systems coupled with Learning Management systems.

2. Establish some baseline metrics

Identifying where you currently are will offer context as you continue to grow.

3. Get leadership onboard

It’s essential that the president or provost understand and agree to the seriousness of this effort.

4. Set expectations

Try to determine what benefits individual departments can realize and how they can leverage their data to improve the overall experiences of students, faculty, staff and alumni.

5. Begin a culture change of making data-backed decisions

Resist basing decisions on past practices, soloist mentalities and personal experiences. The required culture change, which is a bigger challenge than fixing the data, needs to be a collaborative effort championed across the institution.

6. Realize that nothing will happen overnight

Prioritizing data management will take some doing. It requires persistence across the entire organization.

7. Start now

If the change doesn’t begin now, the future success of any university will be in question.

Put your data to work

Can analytics truly save higher education? It’s quite possible. This can be the year your institution starts to make data management a priority.

You don’t have to do it alone, either. Collegis Education experts are ready to dive in and help you remove silos, establish best practices and derive data-backed insights through analytics. Let’s talk.

Author: Kristina Ericksen

Kristina Ericksen is a content writer with four years of experience writing for higher education. She holds an English degree from Gustavus Adolphus College.