“If you want to go fast you should go alone, but if you want to go far, you should go together.” – Source unknown.
I am a strong believer in the power of collective action to achieve a common goal and the essential role of associations in this collaborative work. Higher education associations such as AIR can help marshal the necessary knowledge, talent, resources, and fortitude to transform higher education for the benefit of students and for institutions. Notably, AIR’s new vision and mission – to empower higher education professionals to effectively and ethically use data for better decisions to improve higher education – requires cooperation across institutions, individuals, and organizations.
Last week, AIR took an important step to act collectively with other associations for a renewed and widespread commitment to the effective and ethical use of analytics by releasing a joint statement with EDUCAUSE and the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO). “Analytics Can Save Higher Education. Really.” is a shared call to action for the higher education community to leverage data and analytics for better strategic decision making at colleges and universities.
The statement stresses the importance of using data and analytics to improve student outcomes, campus operations, and much more. The statement recommends six guiding principles that lay the groundwork for effective implementation and sustained use as part of a data-informed institutional culture.
- Go big—make an institutional commitment to analytics.
- Analytics is a team sport—build your dream team.
- Prepare for some detours on the road to success.
- Invest what you can—you can’t afford not to.
- Analytics has real impact on real people—avoid the pitfalls.
- Tick-tock, tick-tock—the time to act is now.
A few forward-looking institutions already use data and analytics as strategic assets in transforming the institutional culture to focus on increasing the success of all students. However, at many of our institutions the change-making potential of these powerful tools remains largely unrealized.
As data professionals within the AIR community, we play an influential role in fulfilling the promise of data and analytics to transform our colleges and universities and to “save” higher education. And, we recognize that data and analysis alone are not enough. We know that an institution-wide commitment to a data-informed culture is necessary. This includes the ability of individuals within the institution to make sense of the information derived from analytics to guide strategic and operational decisions.
Data professionals are often the “sensemakers” who create value derived from analytics by asking smart questions, wrangling the relevant data, and exploring and uncovering insights. Increasingly, we take on the pivotal role of interpreting what the insights mean within the context of our institutions and effectively communicating not only our insights, but our interpretation and recommendations to decision makers.
Data professionals, however, can’t do the work of sensemaking in isolation. As stressed within the joint statement’s six principles, leveraging data and analytics for better decisions requires an authentic and sustained change in institutional culture. Individuals from across an institution need to recognize analytics as a long-term commitment – including senior leaders and those faculty and staff on the front lines who are directly educating and supporting students. Only then can an institution develop the technical infrastructure, processes, and resources to produce accessible, high-quality data and to educate users on its effective and ethical use. Data professionals are called to do our own silo-busting across operational units, including reaching out to our colleagues in information technology and finance.
The critical importance of cooperation is one of the reasons that AIR, EDUCAUSE, and NACUBO are combining our voices and networks to urge increased attention and renewed action by senior leaders and within each of our communities. As national associations, we collectively reach nearly 2,500 institutions that represent over 80 percent of postsecondary students in the United States. In addition to the statement and related outreach, our three associations have pledged to collectively support institutional efforts by providing a common platform to exchange models, resources, and practices – but we need your help. The joint analytics statement and its six principles can spark attention and build momentum. It is, however, only one step in the journey. The hard work of change and commitment around the value of data and analytics for decision making happens on the ground at each college or university.
I challenge all members of the AIR community to be part of our call to action – a collective journey to better leverage analytics within a data-informed culture to improve higher education. An easy first step is to share the analytics statement with others on your campus. Another action is to schedule time, perhaps over coffee or lunch, to discuss the six principles with a colleague from IT or the business office. Or you may want to use the statement as means to jump-start a campus conversation about data governance, ethics, or data literacy.
For those of you further ahead on the “effectively leveraging data and analytics” journey, I encourage you to share your knowledge and lessons with the broader community and to showcase the innovative approaches, practices, and models at your college or university. We are also interested in your ongoing challenges, thorny issues, and what didn’t work as expected as a crucial part of our collective learning and problem solving. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your contact information if you are interested in submitting examples, lessons learned, or other resources.
Together, we can make a difference. Together, we can harness the power and promise data and analytics for better decisions. Together, we can create a brighter future for our institutions and for all our students.
For more information, visit the changewithanalytics website.