College Campuses Produce Stockpiles of Data. But What Can We Do With It?

10/29/2019 1:00 AM

It's no wonder that "big data" is on our minds at TouchNet. Every transaction that runs through one of our solutions produces a myriad of data that's connected to a college student. Multiply that out by every student at every TouchNet school and that's a lot of data. So, when the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), the Association for Institutional Research (AIR) and EDUCAUSE released this statement about higher education using analytics to help students succeed, it echoed what we're hearing from schools every day.

It's no secret that your campus is like a city. It has lodging establishments, dining facilities, parking, recreation, commerce, retail and entertainment – all of which can include financial interactions via credit cards or a student ID. Plus, campus cards can track when students leave the dorm and when they get back. It can track if they've been attending class, where they parked and even when and what they're eating. Unfortunately, even with all this data at hand, we're seeing schools struggle to leverage the enormous potential of analytics.

What can you do with this data?

Turns out, a lot. In fact, AIR, EDUCAUSE, and NACUBO believe "that using data to better understand our students and our own operations paves the way to developing new, innovative approaches for improved student recruiting, better student outcomes, greater institutional efficiency and cost-containment, and much more."

By identifying the habits of successful and unsuccessful students, campuses can introduce systems to check on students who are at risk of falling behind or dropping out. And while privacy concerns are an obvious consideration, a system of periodic "wellness checks" could give at-risk students the opportunity to receive extra support before it's too late.

Another way we see schools using this data is to develop smarter operational procedures for how advisors work with students. By examining how successful students behave and interact on campus and with their advisors, schools can implement changes that encourage ALL students to engage in behaviors that lead to success.

“By examining how successful students behave and interact on campus and with their advisors, schools can implement changes that encourage ALL students to engage in behaviors that lead to success.”

Indeed, the potential is enormous. Imagine if you could identify at-risk students and step in before they get behind and drop out – leaving them with fewer opportunities, more debt and a small chance of returning to complete their education. Not only would you be helping students succeed academically, you'd be supporting them in becoming successful advocates and alumni.

Tips to get started


To maximize your school's potential with insights from big data, there has to be a shift at the institutional level. An initiative like this takes input and buy-in from every area that touches students’ lives. Because campuses are like micro-economies with interrelated and dependent pieces, if one or more campus functions aren't on board, you'll miss parts of the bigger picture.


Using data at the institutional level also requires a clear owner. Often times, we see schools stall on getting new initiatives using data off the ground because there is no one clear person or department that is accountable for making sure progress is made. Not that one department is responsible for every task of the initiative, but every initiative needs a leader — especially one as enormous as this.


Once you have buy-in and ownership resolved, it's also important to decide whether to take data analysis in-house or partner with a third party. If you seek analysis that is nimble and discrete, in-house may be the way to go. If existing IT staff is already dedicated to other tasks or nobody has the specialized training needed for predictive analysis, it may make sense to consider your options before the data begins to flow.

OneCard (or other credentialing systems) is key to unlocking (pun intended) vast amounts of data. This opens the door (again, pun intended) to better identifying areas that schools can better support students on their way to success in and out of the classroom.

Where we are now

Some schools are currently using independent business intelligence tools, but those have limitations as they were not originally intended for higher education. At TouchNet, we're engaged in the conversation to understand our role in this data-powered revolution on campus and consider how to help you leverage the right solutions to get the most out of your data.

I encourage you to read the full statement and ask yourself if your institution is doing everything it can to harness the immense power of analytics.