- Three prominent higher education associations serving almost 2,500 institutions have issued a joint statement calling on colleges to commit to using data and analytics "to make better strategic decisions."
- The Association for Institutional Research (AIR), Educause and the National Association of College and University Business Officers say data can be used to improve recruitment, student outcomes, institutional efficiency and cost-cutting efforts.
- They urge quick action. "[T]he incremental approach used so often in higher education won't be enough," they write. "Tweaks won't deliver the change we need in time to make a difference in the lives of the students enrolled in our institutions today."
More colleges are using predictive analytics to spot trends in their data in order to improve processes such as recruitment and advising. However, fewer than half of institutions see it as a priority, according to a 2016 report from New America.
That may be changing as more colleges find success with tactics like nudges, or interventions designed to steer students toward decisions without removing their choices. So far, such efforts have shown promise in boosting enrollment, increasing retention and graduating more low-income students.
Jonathan Turk, the associate director for research at the American Council on Education, agrees that data and analytics can have transformative effects.
"While higher education leaders are increasingly using data and analytics to better support student success and increase institutional efficiency, there's still more work to be done," he wrote in an emailed statement to Education Dive. "We encourage (them) to continue to consider how these strategies can ensure student success at their own institutions."
In their statement, the three groups offer strategies to improve the use of analytics in higher ed. For one, they say, colleges need to foster collaboration among departments that house and collect student data to reduce inefficiencies.
For example, many institutions' departments of institutional research, student affairs and information technology tend to overlap in their responsibilities, according to a 2018 report from AIR, Educause and NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.
"No one part of the field owns student success," D. Christopher Brooks, director of research at the Educause Center for Analysis and Research, said at the group's annual convention last year. "It requires partnerships across the institution, breaking down the silos and looking for ways we can collaborate from the beginning of the process."
Some institutions are forming consortia to improve industry-wide collaboration. In 2014, when the use of predictive analytics in higher ed was limited, 11 public research universities formed the University Innovation Alliance to help each other use the technology to expand admissions and graduate more underserved students.
The results have been promising. The group expects to exceed its goal of graduating an additional 68,000 students by 2025, and members have learned to prioritize counseling and career services to better help students.
However, the three groups caution that data can be used irresponsibly. Some observers point out that predictive analytics may reinforce inequalities in STEM fields by pushing out low-income and minority students, Politico reported. And others say a nudge at the wrong time can cause a student to drop out.
To avoid such pitfalls, the groups recommend colleges implement an "institution-wide program of awareness, transparency and training" alongside their use of the technology.
Colleges can still move quickly, however. "You can honor higher education's long tradition of moving carefully, but not be immobilized," they write. "The stakes are too high."