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Higher Education Leaders Share Data Practices That Improve Their Institutions

11/21/2023 8:00 PM

More colleges and universities recognize data as critical to sustaining relevance and revenue. Fortunately, higher education institutions are better than ever at capturing data across the organization.

Yet some struggle to unify all of their data and analyze it to find solutions to problems and identify areas of opportunity and improvement. The data is there, but administrators know it’s not necessarily being used effectively and seek ways to improve data culture on their campuses.

Survey: higher ed data practices and priorities

To learn how higher education administrators are approaching data investments and how to extract real business value from data insights, TouchNet and Higher Ed Dive conducted a survey in the spring of 2023. Based on responses from 150 administrators at higher education institutions in the U.S. and Canada, the findings illuminate the key data challenges and opportunities facing higher education. This report explores the results, as well as expert recommendations and insights from higher ed peers, to help institutions get even more value from the data they collect.

More data, better processes

Colleges and universities have access to more data than ever. In open-ended answers, higher ed leaders pointed out the following areas where they’re capturing new data:

  • Finance: income, fees, grants, spending, payroll, financial aid
  • Student experience: satisfaction, needs, attendance, post-graduation success, demographics
  • Business efficiencies: facility usage, impact of remote work, projected staffing, resource allocation

While grateful for new and more data, administrators recognize that by improving their technological infrastructure they could improve the unity, quality, accessibility, and visibility of their data. When asked what capabilities would be most helpful in gleaning more value from data, administrators wanted solutions with features that deliver centralization as well as customization:

  • Ability to capture more/different data (90%)
  • Real-time reporting (85%)
  • Ease of use and customization of reports (85%)
  • A single source of truth for unified data across systems (83%)
  • Centralized dashboard, instead of logging into separate systems (83%)
  • Greater confidence in the integrity of data (77%)

Improving experience and decision-making

When putting the data to use, administrators want to make a wide range of improvements based on their analytical insights, but survey responses showed two areas are clearly the most important: to improve student experiences (56%) and to improve staff experiences (46%).

Regarding who is involved in campus-wide decisions about technology and data, IT leaders were the most common (59%), followed by department leaders (37%), senior leadership (33%), users (29%), steering committees (27%), and independent consultants (23%). The diversity of responses reflect the complexity of modern campuses, where successful technology selection and implementation requires connecting various stakeholders across the campus.

Unifying and using data evolves

Unifying data across campus is the most common stumbling block for administrators wanting to harness their data. Despite eight in ten higher ed leaders saying it would be “very” or “extremely” helpful to have a single source of unified data across systems and departments, only two in ten have that capability today. With many institutions facing critical decisions on their programs and offices, holistic data is needed to conduct comprehensive reviews.

There is no consensus among surveyed administrators on the role of data in making decisions, with many admitting that hunches, instincts, and personal preferences play a role alongside peer input, past experience, and quantifiable insights. But they trust the data they have, as nearly nine in ten executives (87%) say they are either “extremely” or “very confident” in the integrity of the data they use to make business, financial or operational decisions.

Get the survey data on higher ed data

Learn more about higher ed leaders' experience and insights on managing and using data to improve campus experience and operations by downloading our report, Peer Insights: Higher Ed Data Practices & Priorities. Included is advice on topics such as how to drive internal buy-in and agreement among decision-makers regarding technology decisions.