Why SA Pros Need to Become Data Experts in 2017

Colleges and universities are doubling down on utilizing data analytics and integrating them into their processes in 2017.

Higher education professionals and student affairs professionals are constantly looking to answer this question:

How do we improve our collective understanding of ‘the student experience’?

Data can help us answer questions like the one above, so why do we deny or avoid using it?

This year, it’s time to make a resolution to improve our own individual understanding of how to incorporate data into our roles and why it’s important – and will only continue to be important — in the years ahead.

Understanding the Student Experience

We have the ability to simplify the complexity of the student experience by gathering data. Professionals must gather data around current student experiences to understand behaviors and trends, and influence positive changes.

Questions to consider when looking at the holistic student experience may include:

Which programs and practices help or hinder students? Do they create more challenges rather than supporting students?

How do students navigate our institutional resources? Are they frustrating or confusing?

Which type of institutional resources, programs, or practices are utilized most? Utilized the least?

Collecting data helps fill the gap of solely listening to the student affairs professional perspective and helps professionals learn directly from students.

It’s important to gather both qualitative and quantitative data from all types of personnel on campus, including IT, financial aid advisors, academic advisors, career services, and student conduct. These perspectives help capture the day-to-day experiences of students rather than making decisions from siloed data (i.e. only considering student activities data) that only shows a piece of our students overall story.

Personalizing Student Engagement

Whether students say it outright or not, they are looking for an individualized student experience tailored to their own goals and interests. That means that campuses need to embrace one of the most important components of the 21st-century student’s life: technology.

Our CEO and Founder Reuben Pressman reinforces this idea,

“A large majority of students have grown up in a world influenced by technology.”

Everything from the expansion of WiFi to things like smartphone dating apps have changed modern college student communication and expectations. They’re looking for — and expecting to — interact with some type of updated software and technology when they enroll and arrive to campus.

Students are looking for a one-stop-shop for all of the resources that they need to guide their college success. The higher education environment is high-touch, meaning that students expect all services to be friendly, immediate, and streamlined no matter who or what they’re interacting with.

Rachelle Clarke, Dean of Enrollment Services at Rio Salado Community College provides a great parallel for us in her article Scaling Personalization,

“You can’t have people in an Amazon-like environment everywhere they go and then expect them to be satisfied with a non-Amazon experience at their college.”

Using data paired with new technology will help personalize the student experience by quickly and efficiently supporting students with critical information at their fingertips – with technology often allowing professionals to also access important information on-the-fly.

Changing Institutional Culture

Developing a data and measurement mindset to inform student affairs practice inspires deep cultural shifts throughout an institution.

And since collecting data on a consistent basis has not been a sustained practice in student affairs, making the shift comes with hiccups and new challenges, as with any type of change.

In the post called Own It! Assessment Is Your Responsibility by assessment professional Joe Levy, Levy describes why it’s important to involve both data and assessment in our work by taking ownership of data responsibility (whether it’s explicitly or implicitly outline in our roles):

“Do you really want someone else interpreting what data says about your programs and making decisions about your office while you just provide peripheral input? I’d hope not! I’d hope you care enough about your area and feel empowered enough to want to be in the decision-maker seat with colleagues and assessment people as your co-pilots.”

Joe makes a really great point.

To make institutional change across the board, we must be willing to take ownership of our work. From the ideation process, to implementation, and obtaining feedback, we need to know what’s working and what’s not working to make the services we provide for students better.

In 2017, the need for knowledgeable data-driven higher ed professionals will rise. We must look at data-gathering and analysis as a way to find solutions to real problems students are facing.

Keep an eye out for our next blog post with tools and resources on how to become a data-driven professional and inspiration to help you get there!

How will you become more data-focused in 2017?

What do you think will make a difference in terms of data and measurement this year? We’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions.

Tweet us at @HelloPresence to continue the conversation about understanding ways data can improve the student experience.

Kayley Robsham

About the author: Kayley Robsham is the former Community Engagement Manager at Presence, the complete student engagement platform. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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