December 5, 2023

Can your institution answer these questions about its effectiveness?

  • How do our student support services impact student learning outcomes?
  • Are we recruiting students who have the best chance of succeeding at our institution?
  • Which academic programs are most likely to prepare students for the future?
  • How do our administrative and academic staff costs align with our mission?

If so, congratulations. Most colleges and universities cannot do this. Instead, most institutions rely on metrics that speak to simpler questions. Enrollment numbers, student demographics, and retention and graduation rates tell us how many, which groups of students, or what trends exist. Such metrics are needed and may be sufficient for compliance purposes. But more complex questions and answers are needed to help institutions adapt to change and understand how operations, academics, strategy, and mission combine to meet stakeholder expectations and institutional goals.

Finding deeper insights to help your campus be the best it can be 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 has become a big risk for parents and students. Will the knowledge and skills students learn prepare them for graduate success? If students are struggling, are they getting the help they need to progress? In today’s climate where the value of higher education is uncertain, the answers to these questions are important evidence of an institution’s worth.

Accreditors and other stakeholders also expect evidence that colleges and universities are actively promoting student success and can demonstrate that their initiatives are effective. Additionally, reaccreditation now depends on colleges and universities being able to demonstrate that they are financially sound and continuously improving. While faculty, staff, and leaders generally view student learning and success as their mission, richer questions and more timely answers are critical to interventions with current students, long-term planning, and understanding the institution as a whole.

Expanding the perspective and practice of institutional effectiveness

In most colleges and universities, institutional effectiveness is an office that supports the assessment of student learning outcomes or creates metrics for accreditation and federal reporting. Data is rarely generated to answer operational or strategic questions. If so, the results are usually shared with only one individual or a small group. As a result, some departments are better informed than others. This makes it difficult to achieve a campus-wide understanding of the institution’s goals, opportunities, and successes.

Less commonly, institutional effectiveness is seen as a process that involves all departments across campus and focuses on the institution’s mission and finances. Yet this perspective and practice is an emerging evolution we call Institutional Effectiveness 2.0.

IE 2.0 is a more forward-looking, comprehensive and analytically-based way to help institutions plan, manage change and achieve goals. With this new approach to efficiency, institutions are becoming more proactive than reactive. Rather than being assessed solely for compliance purposes, assessment is across academic and administrative units and is undertaken for the purpose of continuous improvement. Data is collected strategically to inform planning at the outset, rather than compiling all available information as the process progresses. The initiatives are then evaluated in terms of their impact.

IE 2.0, with the campus-wide mission front and center, helps connect all parts of the institution. By integrating student, academic, administrative and financial data, bigger, important questions can be asked and answered. Greater transparency exists when data is widely shared. People will gain a shared understanding of the institution as a whole and how well it is fulfilling its mission and using its money.

We are starting with Institutional Effectiveness 2.0

Adopting this more expansive approach to IE commits to a cultural shift, to different ways of thinking, interacting and using digital technology.

One key change that includes new standards and procedures is the integration of student, academic and financial data into a centralized system. In most colleges and universities, data systems are stored. For example, student study data, student and enrollment information, and finances are stored in separate databases and are usually only accessible by relevant departments. As a result, it is nearly impossible to combine the data to answer questions such as which student support programs positively impact learning or what factors most influence the student experience on campus. Separate data systems hide this useful institutional knowledge. With a comprehensive central data system for capturing, analyzing, measuring and reporting metrics across the entire institution, the dots are finally connected and insights can be acted upon.

By incorporating learning outcomes assessment data into this central system, institutions get more value from their efforts. Rather than evaluating only for compliance, SLO data can be used more strategically for continuous improvement and planning. When SLOs can be measured in real time, teachers can better engage with students or quickly adjust their courses. This helps current and future students. The ability to make changes that benefit currently enrolled students increases their confidence in the return on investment of their degree program. At the same time, it helps the financial sustainability of the institution by retaining these students.

Finally, financial data in this central system is essential to aligning money and mission. Colleges and universities must manage resources more than ever for financial sustainability as well as academic quality and strategic goals. Finance departments used to be more reactive. Now, as accreditors scrutinize the financial responsibility and cost of tuition that influence students’ decisions about whether and where to continue their education, CFOs are forced to proactively analyze academic, student and macroeconomic data to model different financial scenarios and prevent risks or identify new investments. opportunities earlier.

A combination of financial, employment, academic and student data enables these types of decision making. Coupled with automated reporting tools, all departments have quick 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 necessary, it is not sufficient. For IE 2.0 to be an effective process in its own right, a fundamental rethinking of the role that IE will play in institutional decision-making is necessary. Systems, processes and policies must then be put in place to enable this new model.

At most colleges and universities, offices of institutional research and institutional effectiveness typically play behind-the-scenes support roles. However, this simple practice does not work well with IE 2.0. For IR and IE staff to contribute effectively, offices need greater visibility, strong research, adaptable communication skills, and leadership that helps engage and unify campus constituencies in using data for strategic planning and evaluating progress toward goals that fulfill the institution’s mission.

As IE 2.0 takes a campus-wide view, colleges and universities may also need to adapt to greater transparency. Rather than a small group or individual using the data and making a decision, the information is widely shared so the problem and impact can be seen. Also, success metrics are shared with everyone. 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 impact on its goals and student learning outcomes.

In most colleges and universities, implementing IE 2.0 will require time, money and institutional change. Disbursement is an approach to efficiency that can transform an institution by giving it the resilience, predictability and flexibility to ensure students succeed and the campus is future-proofed.

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