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The Analytics Imperative

May 2019


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Susan Whealler Johnston
is president and CEO of NACUBO.

Nearly one-third of all chief business officers say that strategic thinking and decision making are among the most important aspects of their jobs. Without analytics, these critical responsibilities can’t be achieved.

Higher education is challenged on many fronts. The public is questioning the value of higher education, and policymakers are scrutinizing outcomes—expressing concerns about graduation rates, affordability, and student debt. Many have called attention to concerns about equity and whether all students, particularly those from low-income and underrepresented minority backgrounds, are achieving desired outcomes. Students and their families are demanding high-quality services both in and out of the classroom. At the same time, colleges and universities are facing increasingly complex financial challenges and seeking new revenue options. For many institutions, the traditional business model is fraying.

Higher education is awash with data in all these areas, but data alone won’t help CBOs and other institutional leaders make strategic decisions to address their challenges and take advantage of new opportunities. Analytics must be part of the answer. Choices on such disparate matters as narrowing the achievement gap, allocating resources for new programs, and optimizing energy use for cost savings and environmental sustainability all benefit from a robust use of analytics. We know this, but the needle isn’t moving on higher education’s purposeful use of analytics. While we may have pockets of excellence on our campuses, the real strategic power of analytics has yet to be unleashed.

The Need to Collaborate

Integrating analytics into campus practices cannot be achieved in a silo. It demands campuswide collaboration. Because using analytics encourages campuses to consider larger, integrated, and potentially more diverse data sets to gain insights, analytics must be understood and embraced as a cross-institutional effort that involves cabinet-level leaders, including CBOs, as well as students, faculty, and staff from across functional areas.

CBOs have a unique and significant vantage point when it comes to data on resource allocation and institutional planning. Institutional financial data are key for decision making. But by employing additional data from across their campuses—including student-focused data and data from other administrative systems—and by working closely with offices and individuals campuswide, CBOs can contribute to even better decisions to support institutional strategies and goals.

A Critical Initiative

One of NACUBO’s strategic priorities is to “lead higher education’s integration of analytics to achieve institutional strategic goals.” Because collaboration is crucial to the successful use of analytics on campuses, it’s no surprise that NACUBO has itself partnered with two associations to address this priority. For several years, NACUBO has collaborated with EDUCAUSE and the Association for Institutional Research (AIR) on the Enterprise Summit, which brings together leaders from information technology, institutional research, and business and finance offices to examine ways of working together to address institutional challenges and take advantage of the power of data analytics.

Our three associations are now partnering on another important initiative, urging institutions to make analytics an essential part of their strategic work. At the 2019 Enterprise Summit, held last month in Long Beach, Calif., the presidents of these three associations—Christine Keller, executive director and CEO of AIR; John O’Brien, president and CEO of EDUCAUSE; and I—announced that we will continue to work together to advocate for the use of analytics throughout higher education. To help move this needle, we are creating a declaration of principles on data analytics, highlighting its importance and the need for institutions to leverage the opportunities it presents. We will formally release the statement this summer to members of the three associations, as well as to other campus members whose collaboration in analytics will be vital for its widespread implementation. 

The collaboration among AIR, EDUCAUSE, and NACUBO models the necessary collaboration on your campuses. We hope that you, along with AIR and EDUCAUSE members, as well as other higher education leaders, including campus presidents and board members, will join with us in harnessing the power of analytics to inform decisions supporting institutional missions, strategies, and students.



Related Topics

NACUBO, AIR, and EDUCAUSE are partnering on another important initiative, urging institutions to make analytics an essential part of their strategic work.