BLOG: Fresh Uses for Data to Advance Student Success

By Dr. Elayne Reiss, Director of Research, Achieving the Dream

Members of Achieving the Dream’s Data, Technology, and Analytics team have been reimagining usage cases for common data to answer the question “what can colleges do to maximize the power of their data on behalf of student success without spending a lot of money or setting up complex systems?” Can colleges think about putting the data they already have to work in new ways?

ATD’s team travelled in May to the 2018 Association for Institutional Research (AIR) Forum in Orlando, FL, to stimulate their thinking and took special note of these ideas.

  • Find new audiences for your data. A team from the University of South Florida found a new, enthusiastic audience for Florida wage data that has been available for years. In “Sharing Early Career Outcomes: What’s the Best Way?” researchers explained how the university began sharing the data with freshmen students who hadn’t chosen a major. Faculty and administration hadn’t shown much interest in state-collected employment and wage data reports, so staff began incorporating data from the reports into First-Year Experience courses. The goal was to help students better understand the potential differences in eventual earnings and employment outcomes associated with different majors.  Students immediately appreciated the information and reported that it was valuable in helping them choose programs of study.
  • Data visualization does not have to be expensive.  A presentation by Columbus State Community College, an ATD institution since 2012 and Leader College since 2015, “Assessing and Displaying Student Success Using Excel Add-Ins and PowerBI,” showed just how much could be done without spending money on expensive data tools. Using only free tools integrated into Excel, the IR staff at Columbus State improved the visual data presentations (visualizations) associated with student attendance at tutoring. Making it easier for faculty and administrators to get a clearer picture of tutoring use and outcomes helped bring gaps and discrepancies to light and then sparked discussion of potential improvements to tutoring at the college.
  • Alumni survey data can drive important changes in the college experience. ATD’s Director of Research Dr. Elayne Reiss and Erica Smith, an IR analyst at Northern Virginia Community College, led a group discussion about the uses of alumni surveys to explore post-graduation outcomes. Attendees shared the techniques that they have been using at their respective institutions to gauge educational satisfaction, obtain wage and employment records, and find ways to enhance strategic planning. For example, one participant mentioned the value of surveying both completers and non-returning students to compare attitudes and experiences; stark differences would inform various departments across the campus, from student life to advising to facilities.

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