Recommendations on How to Measure Student Success in Universities

by | Nov 14, 2018 | Education

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In a previous blog post, we talked about the Top 10 issues in IT, the list put out each year by EDUCAUSE at its annual conference. Another interesting panel discussion took place at the conference, tying together many of the issues on the list.

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The EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research teamed up with the Association for Institutional Research and NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education to study how colleges and universities use data and analytics to help students succeed. “Student success” itself was ranked number two on the EDUCAUSE Top 10 list, but much of what was written about in the study and talked about on the panel also addresses almost every other issue on the list.


The study looked primarily at institutional research, student affairs, and information technology, three of the units involved in data-informed strategies at higher ed institutions. IT professionals and institutional researchers do the work of developing models, collecting and managing data, as well as interpreting and analyzing it. Student affairs professionals are the ones who develop and conduct interventions and manage early-alert systems, which help institutions identify the students who may benefit from proactive interventions. These are siloed roles whose work comes together when it comes to data strategy, but the study found many institutions need to do more. The institutions involved in the study reported that they need more people for roles involving analytics reporting and management.

Find meaningful data

The study found that the extent to which institutions systematically collect, integrate, and use their data varies. Student information system data, like admissions, financial aid, or academic course data, are the pieces of data that are systematically collected, integrated, and used to a meaningful extent. Only about one in 10 institutions uses the data from sources like advancement or housing in the same way, and fewer use learning management systems in a meaningful way.

The panel addressed the fact that some schools are collecting data just to have it, without a plan for what to do with it yet. That’s where staffing comes up again, as well as training. The study found that all institutions, no matter what their size, could increase their focus on training in their institution-wide data strategy. Institutions have the data – they just don’t know what to do with it in many cases.

Recommendations from the report

Two of the big takeaways from the report reflect not just the findings of the survey, but also the issues in IT that EDUCAUSE identified in its annual Top 10 list. One was to prioritize measuring student outcomes, for which the Association for Institutional Research recommends schools create a chief data officer position. That person would be responsible for supporting and coordinating all data-focused decision-support activities. Another is to increase the use of qualitative data. One way to do that is with student interviews. The report suggests supplementing the information gathered in surveys by talking to students directly about what services would be best for them.

EDUCAUSE’s Top 10 list identified topics like a student-centered institution, digital integrations, data-enabled institution, data management and governance, and an integrative CIO. Those issues were all addressed in one way or another in this report. And it seems like that’s how institutions should be looking at the work EDUCAUSE is doing. If they want to use data to improve student success – which was number two on EDUCAUSE’s list – then every other aspect of IT and data needs to work in step towards that goal.

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John Sucich
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