2012 ECAR Study of Analytics In Higher Education

Analytics is a growing part of higher education vernacular. The topic peppers conversations at conferences, in campus meetings, and among colleagues. The term “analytics” was one of the 75 most frequently used words in 2012 AIR Forum educational session titles. Questions about analytics abound: What is it? How is it defined? Are IR professionals expected to be masters of analytics? Is it a buzzword or a way of doing business?
In August 2012, the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (ECAR) issued a report entitled Analytics in Higher Education: Benefits, Barriers, Progress, and RecommendationsThe report is based on data gathered through surveys of EDUCAUSE and AIR members and from focus groups with IR and IT professionals.
EDUCAUSE presents analytics as: “Strategic Question—Data Analysis and Prediction—Insight and Action.” Although 69 percent of the ECAR study’s responding institutions reported that analytics is “a major priority for at least some departments, units, or programs,” the study also revealed that data are not used at the level suggested by the EDUCAUSE definition—that is, data are not used proactively or to make predictions. ECAR found that “in only three areas (enrollment management, finance and budgeting, and student progress) were more than half of the institutions surveyed using data at a level that meets this definition.” The top concern about the growing use of analytics is affordability, as noted by more than 40 percent of study respondents.
The ECAR report emphasizes that “analytics itself is not the end goal. Rather, analytics is a tool used in addressing strategic problems or questions.” In order to support achievement of the definition of analytics, EDUCAUSE hosts a research hub where users can access information related to this report, including an infographic, data tables, and video clips of “Words of Wisdom from the Experts.”

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Total Comments: 6
Julie posted on 9/25/2012 6:57 PM
I circulated this article to analysts on my campus in various offices and to several high level staff in our Office of the CIO, and invited them all to a lunch conversation about collaborations between IT and IR. We had a really good conversation, and agreed that we'll continue our discussion on a regular basis.

Julie Carpenter-Hubin, Ohio State
Eric posted on 9/26/2012 4:28 PM
To be honest, I feel very concerned about the future of institutional research from this report. Here is why.

On page 19 of the report, there is a comparison of statistics on the survey about the perspective of IR and IT professionals’ view on importance of analytics. IT is actually higher than IR. However, in many mission statements, IR offices suppose to be the analytical arm of senior administration while IT supposes to be the support for technology infrastructure. If we look from career path, the results are not surprise. IT career is so dynamic and changing therefore people have to keep learning new things, to embrace to new environment, to be ‘alive.’ On the other hand, it is not surprise for some IR people to maintain certain programs for 20 years without any change. For them, IR actually means Institutional Reporting. The work of IR has not posed challenge for some time and many reports from IR professional only present descriptive statistics which even t-test is not used. If you can look at the program books of AIR annual forum without checking the year, you will find its latest one has virtually no change from five years ago.

With the Business Intelligence (BI) and Analytics, IR field finally finds its opportunity for growth. The whole institution is QUALITY and DIET DATA hungry. In some sense, we are in post-industry period where agriculture is advanced and raw food is vast and abundant. At the same time, “kitchen” is renovated to become much modern than 10-15 years ago and can process food faster and customized. However, some good cookers are not in yet. Some IR professionals, who know the food characteristics so well, are still left behind in the mentality of using small pans and pots. The modern kitchen won’t be empty long enough. If we won’t jump in, other people will. Already, in some institutions, IT departments, holding the modern gears, are pushing business intelligence to the next level and they are leading the trend and asking IR to provide the data dictionary and explanation. In other institutions, senior leaders are bracing for the concepts of planning and analytics, and put IR aside. If you google “office of planning and analysis” within sites .edu, you will find many institutions with this office name, often with IR under it.

The modern data structure, internet complexity, vender variety, distance learning and working environment make it impossible for IR office to work alone in building any university-wide system. However, the uniqueness of IR professional provides a golden opportunity for revival of this field. By allying with IT and creating higher level data structure and BI platform, IR will get rid of old cycle of buried in endless ad-hoc request and survey and enter new cycle of predictive modeling. With the accountability, IT needs us as well to rectify the software/hardware purchase, often in bundle, so this is a win-win situation. When I said IR and IT can have a perfect marriage in one session of SunGard Banner Summit (now called Euclid), many audiences applauded.
Henry posted on 9/26/2012 5:47 PM
This is very timely. Data analytics is getting so much attention lately that even Harvard Business Review devoted its upcoming (Oct. 2012) issue on data analytics. “Making Advanced Analytics Work For You”, “Data Scientist: The Sexiest Job Of the 21st Century”, “Big Data: the Next Management Revolution” are some of articles in this issue.

Reading through the Educause article, one interesting thing that I want to point out is Figure 4 on Page 11. It seems that data analytics is mostly used by higher education in understanding student demographics, behaviors and then relatedly student recruitment. This is consistent with industry spending on market analysis, scoping, and predictive modeling. However, if you look at the areas that higher education use data analysis the least , they are administrative cost, faculty productivity, and administrative services. In industry, these areas are of strong focus as they have to lower cost to compete. I think that opportunities are there for higher education to use data analytics to help lower administrative costs and improve productivity to make education more affordable to students.

I agree with the recommendations especially the one on “early wins”. Many universities are reluctant to invest in data analytics area because they don’t see tangible benefits. It is our job to develop easy and early wins so that the leaders can see how data can really help make their decision process better. It is often the case that there are many ways to solve the same problem and if we can use data analytics to run several scenarios to generate a best case scenario, it will help make the decision process easier for the leaders.

Also, Julie's idea and action of trying to get IR and IT staff together to develop this framework is absolutely the right path. IT can help set up the right infrastructure and IR can take it further to make sense of the data. It is a strategic partnership that can help push data analytics forward.
Angel posted on 9/26/2012 7:23 PM
I have only perused the report thus far and I think it is important to have tools to assist us to make informed policy recommendations. The increased use of data across jurisdictions is going to exponentially increase. The ability of managing and analysisng copious amount of data may be critical factors in how entities and countries will compete and prosper.
Questions of 'what to do" with such data and 'how to' are central to shaping the boundaries which many professionals may ponder. A central tenet for IR is to add value, provide context and embed institutional (and system-wide) implications of what data tell us. IT should be seen as an enabler. In the main we need effective tools to shape policy, develop future scenarios and we need to establish alliances beyond the occupational sector. A failure of IR professionals to be active in shaping and influencing policy and contributing to the advancement of higher education would only result in them being confined to the perils of number crunching and statistical reporting.
Meihua posted on 9/27/2012 9:17 PM

Someone must have heard you when you proposed the IR/IT marriage because this report is a good example of what we can do with that marriage. Kodos to the leaders of the two organizations to produce a report like this.

I found this report very invigorating and inspiring for the following reasons:

1. The charts and graphs used in this report, including those used in the reading “trailer” above, are simple, with the messages delivered very clear and loud.

2. With a marriage (even though that marriage may not be a perfect one) of IR and IT in doing analytics in the 21st century, we are really walking the talk of what Thomas Freeman suggests in his best-seller book “The World Is Flat” using the right-brain in dealing with a flat world. Mr. Freeman says: “In a world upended by outsourcing, deluged with data, and choked with choices, the abilities that matter most are now closer in spirit to the specialties of the right hemisphere – artistry, empathy, seeing the big picture, and pursuing the transcendent. “ When software vendors (IT) tell us that they can do our IPEDS reporting for us (outsourcing?), we will need to focus on what the vendors cannot do – building institutional insights from the data. Insights here are defined as actionable, data-driven findings that create institutional administrative value.

3. Traditionally, we do our research based on what data we conveniently have. As a result, we have been trying to slice the student-body “pie” in whatever ways that our data support. The limits of findings from those researches are that we can neither change student demographics (or we are not supposed to), nor are we in the position to alter the mission of our institutions. This report is suggesting that we turn our focus from people demographic features to behaviors, such as curriculum fit, academic advising, different instructional delivery methods, the cost and impact of those practices. We won’t be able to produce actionable, data-driven findings unless we focus on the study of practices and behaviors.

4. One of the key findings from this report is that “Analytics programs are most successful when various constituents—institutional research (IR), information technology (IT), functional leaders, and executives— work in partnership.” It is calling for integrated enterprise study of practices. With IR offices migrate from IR to Enterprise Planning and Decision Support, it is time for us to use IT technology to automate as much as possible those rule-driven reports so that we will be able to conduct more enterprise data-driven studies that will provide some concrete road map suggestions for campus decision-making support.
Eric posted on 9/30/2012 8:43 AM
I would like to make a correction in my post. Sungard (owning Banner), that merged with Datatel, changed its name to “Ellucian” in 2012. My apology.