Can your institution answer these questions about its effectiveness?
- How do our student support services influence students’ learning outcomes?
- Are we recruiting students who are the most likely to succeed at our institution?
- Which academic programs are most likely to prepare students for the future?
- How do our administrative and academic personnel costs align with our mission?
If so, congratulations. Most colleges and universities can’t. Instead, most institutions rely on metrics that speak to simpler questions. Enrollment counts, student demographics and retention and graduation rates tell us how many, which student groups, or what trends are present. Such metrics are needed and may suffice for compliance purposes. However, more complex questions and answers are necessary to help institutions adapt to change and understand how operations, academics, strategy and mission combine to meet stakeholder expectations and institutional goals.
Seeking deeper insights to help your campus be its best has never been more important. Colleges and universities are responding to unprecedented challenges. So are their students. With the high cost of college, enrolling and choosing a major have become big risks for parents and students. Will the knowledge and skills students learn prepare them for post-graduation success? If students are struggling, will they get the help they need to progress? In the current climate where higher education’s value is uncertain, answers to these questions are important evidence of the institution’s worth.
Accreditors and other stakeholders, too, expect evidence that colleges and universities actively support student success and can prove their initiatives are effective. Additionally, reaccreditation now depends on whether colleges and universities can demonstrate they’re financially sound and continually improving. While faculty, staff and senior leaders generally see student learning and success as their mission, richer questions and more timely answers are vital to intervening with current students, planning long-term and understanding the institution as a whole.
Expanding the view and practice of institutional effectiveness
At most colleges and universities, institutional effectiveness is the office that supports assessing student learning outcomes or produces metrics for accreditation and federal reporting. Data are rarely generated to answer operational or strategic questions. When they are, the results are typically shared only with a single individual or small group. Consequently, some departments are better informed than others. That makes achieving a campus-wide understanding of the institution’s goals, opportunities and successes difficult.
It’s less common that institutional effectiveness is seen as a process, one that involves all departments across campus and focuses on the institution’s mission and money. Yet this view and practice is an emerging evolution that we call Institutional Effectiveness 2.0.
IE 2.0 is a more forward-looking, comprehensive, analytics-based path to helping institutions plan, drive change and achieve goals. With this new approach to effectiveness institutions become more proactive than reactive. Rather than assessment for compliance purposes only, assessment spans academic and administrative units and is done to continually improve. Data are strategically collected to inform planning at the start rather than cobbling together whatever information is available as the process unfolds. Then initiatives are evaluated for their impact.
With the campus-wide mission front and center, IE 2.0 helps connect all parts of the institution. By integrating student, academic, administrative and financial data the bigger, important questions can be asked and answered. Greater transparency exists when data are broadly shared. People gain a common understanding of the institution as a whole and how well it’s meeting its mission and using its money.
Getting started with Institutional Effectiveness 2.0
Taking this more expansive approach to IE is committing to a cultural shift, to different ways of thinking, interacting and using digital technology.
One key change that includes new norms and practices is integrating student, academic and financial data into a centralized system. At most colleges and universities, data systems are siloed. For example, data on student learning, student information and enrollment and finances are stored in separate databases and usually accessed only by those respective departments. Consequently, it’s nearly impossible to combine the data to answer questions such as which student support programs are positively affecting learning or what factors most influence students’ experience on campus. Standalone data systems hide this useful institutional knowledge. With a comprehensive central data system to capture, analyze, measure and report on metrics across the institution, the dots are finally connected and action can be taken based on the insights discovered.
By incorporating learning outcomes assessment data into this central system, institutions get more value from their effort. Instead of assessment solely for compliance, SLO data can be used more strategically for continuous improvement and planning. When SLOs can be measured in real-time, faculty are better able to intervene with students or adjust their courses quickly. That helps current as well as future students. The ability to make changes that benefit currently enrolled students boosts their confidence in the ROI of their degree program. At the same time, it helps the institution’s financial sustainability by retaining those students.
Lastly, financial data in this central system is imperative to align money and mission. More than ever colleges and universities must manage resources for financial sustainability as well as academic quality and strategic goals. Finance departments used to be more reactive. Now, with accreditors scrutinizing financial responsibility and tuition price influencing students’ decisions about whether and where to continue their education, CFO’s are being forced to proactively analyze academic, student and macroeconomic data to model differing financial scenarios and get ahead of risks or identify new investment opportunities sooner.
Combining financial, labor, academic and student data enables these types of decision-making. Paired with automated reporting tools, all departments have ready access to financial data for their own short-term and long-term planning. This helps drive ownership and accountability for achieving the institution’s mission and financial sustainability.
Institutional Effectiveness 2.0 is more than data and digital technology
While a comprehensive, centralized data system is essential, it isn’t enough. For IE 2.0 itself to be an effective process, a fundamental rethinking of the role IE will play in institutional decision-making is necessary. Then systems, processes and policies that make this new model possible must be put into place.
At most colleges and universities, Institutional Research and Institutional Effectiveness offices typically play behind-the-scenes support roles. That low-key practice doesn’t work well with IE 2.0 though. For IR and IE personnel to contribute effectively, the offices need greater visibility, strong research, adaptable communication capability and leadership that helps engage and unite campus constituencies in using data for strategic planning and evaluating progress on goals that fulfill the institution’s mission.
Because IE 2.0 takes a campus-wide view, colleges and universities may need to adapt to greater transparency as well. Rather than a small group or individual using data and making decisions, the information is shared widely so the issue and impact can be seen. Success metrics, too, are shared with all. This visibility helps stakeholders at all levels and across units understand the institution as a whole. In turn, everyone can see their role in its mission and their effect on its goals and student learning outcomes.
For most colleges and universities, implementing IE 2.0 will take time, money and institutional change. The payoff is an approach to effectiveness that can transform an institution giving it resiliency, foresight and flexibility to ensure students succeed and the campus is future proof.