Published on 2012/04/25
Data Driven Decision Making Doesn’t Mean Getting Run Over
It’s time for higher education administrators take the wheel and start using metrics to determine workforce needs, program availability and future curricula. Photo by Pete Markham.

Leaders in education face a tsunami of expectations from business, government and community members on how to deliver results. A cry for innovation and wiser spending from the public has lead to commitments from educational organizations that there will be a stronger movement towards data driven decision making.  Exactly what data sources should be used and what metrics should be put in place are as varied as the entities insisting on change. The movement to data driven decision making can be a meaningful, positive tool for change in education. It is also an opportunity to communicate essential information to the public, industry and government by talking in their terms.

Making data driven decisions should not mean blindly converting to metrics without connection to the business of education. Education knows and understands tracking enrollments and completions.  It continues to advance, improve and fine tune student success initiatives. Demographics are being sorted to discover trends in student populations and provide relevant support structures.

Taking the data to deeper levels or re-framing the data allows bridges to business and industry so they can understand and support your objectives.  Take three pressing topics in education as examples; college completion rates, remedial education needs and budget shortfalls. All three topics stimulate discussion regarding data presented and provoke strong public opinion. Pulling pertinent data from a variety of sources can help provide a holistic picture as well as allowing the message to be tailored to the audience.

Just consider the variety of data sources available. Everything from the impactful story of a single student to trends in student class evaluations. Advisory groups, business meetings, faculty committees and student groups provide opportunities for focus groups or small surveys. Data for local, state and national trends can speak to demographic shifts, wage adjustments, industry advances.  Education messages containing information connecting to community diversity, work readiness and the return on investment generally resonate with public and industry groups.

Perhaps using data on completion rates could be augmented to highlight how industry could support the effort to improve rates.  Present information on local industries and the hiring trends in the community. Do students tend to pick up part-time work, shift work or seasonal work with them?  Are employers offering schedules that allow for students to work and go to school? What are projected skill deficits for new industries and what education programs are in place to prepare that workforce?  Data can provide windows of opportunities for business or other organizations to support the education mission.

It’s time to talk data, so take the steering wheel.

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Readers Comments

Zandra Thompson 2012/04/25 at 9:13 am

It’s all well and good to say “we need metrics, we need metrics”, but where are we going to get the money to afford the systems to collect them and the people to decipher, organize and analyze it?

W.A. Anderson 2012/04/25 at 4:23 pm

What I don’t understand is why this isn’t happening already. Why are schools operating on a mythical notion of what’s needed in the workforce?

We need to be using metrics to determine what students want to learn, how they want to learn it, and what they should be learning

Having read President Obama’s Job’s Council 2011 year-end report, this article not only reinforces the lack of alignment between what employers need and what education and skills are offered by education providers, but provides a specific solution for HEIs to become more responsive. Clearly, the changing economy is driving pervasive business demand for an increasingly more educated and specialized workforce with postsecondary skills and credentials. To meet such demand, HEI’s need to rapidly transform how they develop and market programs (inc. certificate and non-credit courses) from a proprietary “one-size-all” approach to a market-driven, data-centric approach. The latter must, however, be linked to academic collaboration, content and data sharing, and integrated to the complete process from feasibility analysis and idea generation to creation, scheduling and even publishing. This requires a strategic commitment from provosts and deans to fundamentally change how they “develop new products” to meet the unique needs of various business sectors, regions and even individual businesses. Thank you, Rebecca, for a wonderful, thought-provoking article!

Bruce Hamm 2012/05/02 at 5:40 pm

A wise person once corrected me and said the phrase should be “data informed decision making”. We may differ on metrics to be used, methodologies, or even accuracy of information. Clearly data can only tell part of the story. In the end, it comes down to capable persons from education, government, and industry utilizing both quantitative and qualitative data and working together to develop strategies that are successful…

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