Promoting Quality, Impact, and Scale

eAIR spoke with Jonathan Gagliardi, Assistant Vice President for Strategy, Policy, and Analytics, Lehman College, about his new role, plans for the future, and career accomplishments.

JGagliardi.jpgeAIR: Congratulations on your new role as Assistant Vice President for Strategy, Policy, and Analytics at Lehman College. Can you tell us a little about your responsibilities in this newly created position?

My knowledge of higher education was shaped by a host of experiences. These include my time helping to lead American Council on Education’s center for Policy Research and Strategy, serving Nancy Zimpher and the State University of New York, and working with Rebecca Martin at the National Association of System Heads. Each of these underscored how important it is to serve an evolving student demographic, create more dynamic and resilient institutions, and support transformational leaders through the use of data and application of analytics. As I became more familiar with Lehman it became clear that the college really embodies the future of American higher education. When the opportunity to join Lehman in this new role surfaced, it was too good to be true. The role, which centers around translating data into insights that fuel action, has given me the opportunity to apply the lessons learned from these experiences and the aspirational practices created by AIR. It really affords me an opportunity to practice what I preach.

At first glance my title might lead folks to believe I spend my days squirreled away coding analyses, but the reality is different. It is more about organizing the good work of the campus in ways that promote quality, impact, and scale. This includes leveraging our 90X30 goal to double the number of degrees earned by Lehman graduates to 90,000 by 2030 as a framework to orchestrate transformational changes. I spend a great deal of time in conversation with key constituents in an effort to empower them to use data in its varied forms in order to magnify the impact of their work. It is about creating a culture of data-informed decision making, which is inherently messy. It is as much about people and culture as it is about money and technical solutions.

We are really fortunate to be in the home stretch of our Middle States Self Study, which we are leveraging as a springboard to our next strategic plan. This planning process, which will likely occur over the next year or two, will allow us to have important campus conversations about how to best work together to improve student outcomes in an equitable way. We will also continue to improve how we as an IR function intake requests for data and information and guide the campus in learning how to discover it for themselves. It is a delicate balancing act because you want to ensure quality and validity while also empowering folks to use data across the campus. This is why the IR/IT nexus is so important, both for the new paradigm of data governance, but also because I firmly believe that you scale out good IR practices by collaborating with IT in the design and implementation of data tools, dashboards, and analyses for diverse constituents.

eAIR: What is your five-year plan at Lehman to impact and improve diversity and student success?

In five years, we want to be known not just as IR, which will always be at our core, but as a cross-divisional function that leads the campus community through evidence-based transformational changes that put students first and promote diversity and equity. It won’t happen overnight, and it will need to be a collaborative and phased approach for us to be successful. I am lucky that our Office of Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment, which is part of my portfolio, already has a stellar reputation for delivering insights across campus.

The most important thing is listening to the campus and uncovering what the needs of the community are by focusing in on using data to get to solutions and actions. My first few months have been spent meeting with our Deans, Department Chairs, and other members of the campus community. I’m getting to know the challenges and opportunities we face and identifying areas where our function can help. By building these relationships and helping to translate data into insights that fuel action—which is how I define analytics—we are planting the seeds of a campus-wide culture centered around data.

For us to do that well we must also recast the conversation around data governance as one that is continuous, flexible, and student focused by partnering with IT. The same challenges that apply to most campuses also apply to us in that data exist in silos, there remain shadow systems borne out of a need for fast information, and we could do more to be on the same page about the full universe of analytics assets, how we define them, and the manner in which we plan to use them with a specific focus on equitable access and outcomes.

eAIR: As an author and co-editor of The Analytics Revolution in Higher Education, please share a little bit about the impetus for this volume.

While at the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education I wore many hats, but the one that left the greatest impression was related to data governance and stewardship. At the time we were just scratching the surface of the power of big data and workforce outcomes. We experienced successes as well as challenges. These challenges all really stemmed from the need to get our coordinating board and our campuses, as well as the private sector and the state legislature on the same page about using data ethically, responsibly, and effectively. When I joined NASH, I was lucky enough to learn from none other than Jane Wellman about how to help campuses in their pursuit of savvier data use. It opened my eyes to the widespread challenges facing colleges and universities in their efforts to do so, which seemed to me to have reached a tipping point given the explosion of big data and demands for insight. The volume was written in an effort to provide practical knowledge about how to approach data-informed reforms, the structural implications of these reforms on IR (and campuses more broadly), and to chart a future course for the function.

eAIR: During the course of your 12-year career, what do you see as your greatest accomplishment to date?

If you are asking about one specific accomplishment, it would probably be helping to create the Taking Student Success to Scale network with Nancy Zimpher and Rebecca Martin while I was at NASH. The network, which focuses on scaling out high impact practices, redesigning math pathways, and predictive analytics, has grown immensely in the few years since its inception, and was recognized by President Obama for its approach to using systems as a tool to scale evidence-based changes. It was a bootstrap effort that resulted in a powerful, nationwide network of higher education leaders and practitioners who shared a unified vision and the will and urgency to act. It has really informed my own approach to the work that I do. I have also been really fortunate because I have worked with and for incredible people who have entrusted me and supported my growth.



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