Now more than ever, data management is critical for higher education institutions. In 2019, there was even an enterprise summit addressing this very topic. The organizations involved went so far as to state that analytics can save higher education. At the event’s conclusion, higher education leaders were urged to focus on the following themes going forward:

  • The importance of data and the urgent need for analytics
  • The impact of the analytics on the higher education workforce
  • Making a difference through communication and governance

Unfortunately, many colleges and universities have yet to establish strong data management. This is a missed opportunity. 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. Their insights can help you discover how to make data management an achievable goal for your institution in 2020.

The problem of data without data management

It’s not that schools aren’t interested in mining their data. A recent report from Educause actually indicates that most schools view analytics as important to their institution. But at most of these 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.

Adding to the problem is the fact that 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 many schools spend more time navigating silos and the data sprawled across systems than creating real, tangible value for the institution. And this is a real issue, because academic institutions are underutilizing what could be a critical strategic asset. Other factors that fuel the problem are misconceptions and lack of clear ownership of institutional data. Furthermore, many academic leaders underestimate the resources it takes 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 can yield numerous benefits. It just needs to be properly collected, stored, protected and processed. It creates order and allows schools to actually derive value from their data, Antonson says.

For instance, the insights schools uncover in their information could help improve retention. Also consider that data can help schools improve their marketing efforts to more efficiently enroll students. Data can reveal which initiatives are working and which aren’t. This is a great way to boost your ROI using information you already have.

Data management can also help you bridge the gap between admissions and marketing to achieve growth objectives. Historically, data is stored in disparate systems and lives with each individual team. Building a team approach that integrates all your tools can drive stronger outcomes that everyone is seeking.

“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 these potential benefits by neglecting their data, but they are also putting themselves at risk long term. In fact, many of the challenges institutions currently 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. And 2020 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. Contact us at