Using Data to Respond to COVID-19

    

“Disruption” and “disruptive innovation” are common themes among higher education watchers and analysts.  The current pandemic was not the type of disruption that was predicted but certainly is causing more disruption than could have been imagined in such a short period of time. 

In these trying times, institutions are desperate for relevant, actionable data to help inform decisions and understand the new reality they face. Fortunately, our clients have been able to turn to the HelioCampus platform to find this data and inform important conversations on campus.

Since the very early weeks of the COVID-19 situation, we’ve been working with our clients to help them ask and answer critical questions related to the changing nature of their operations and inform planning for the uncharted waters in the months ahead.

While the questions and need for data have been far reaching, a few themes quickly emerged:

Online Classroom and LMS Data

While all institutions have some form of Learning Management System (LMS) to facilitate online aspects of their classes, the existing usage and utilization was varied and limited. Now, as classes move online temporarily, and maybe more permanently, there is a rush to understand what is happening in these online environments. 

Are all students logging in and submitting work? How are faculty utilizing the various tools of the LMS? Are certain courses or students showing more/less engagement than others? These and other questions are hard to answer holistically with standard LMS reporting and require more in-depth tools and analysis.

The HelioCampus team has always had a deep understanding of LMS data and its application from prior work in the field. We have also worked with clients to integrate their LMS data into the HelioCampus platform to connect with critical student and course data from the SIS.

To address this need for the broader community, HelioCampus launched the LMS Explorer Kit last month. This is a free tool that extracts LMS data and provides a consolidated view of both student and class engagement metrics. The first version works with Canvas LMS and we expect to launch the Blackboard LMS version soon.

Admissions Impact

With an uncertain Fall semester and surveys indicating many families are considering deferring their student’s freshman year, this year’s admissions cycle will be anything but routine. Traditional signals such as tuition deposits and wait list behavior are no longer a reliable indication that students will show up for the fall.

Admissions teams and campus leadership are looking for better ways to track the evolving situation such as the volume and trajectory of cancelled deposits, yield by location and distance from campus, new financial aid assistance requests, and overall summer melt trajectory.

HelioCampus clients are leveraging the integrated admissions data sets to answer many of these questions and provide access to automated up-to-date tracking of key indicators. Armed with this critical information, leaders can act quickly to make tough decisions about extending deadlines, extending admission to wait listed students, and providing best estimates of final fall enrollment.  

Retention of Current Students

Enrollment uncertainty is not limited to new incoming students. Current students who are finishing up the spring semester are now at a higher risk of not coming back for summer or fall terms as historical persistence rates are not likely to reflect what will happen this year.  

Institutions are looking for better ways to track the course registration and enrollment activity to both plan for the fall and to conduct outreach to students who have not yet registered and may be in need of support, financial assistance, or encouragement to return to campus. As classes fill up for the fall, many questions arise around capacity planning for both efficiency and safety.  The HelioCampus platform allows users to explore this data and easily create new views of registration activity, segment by student populations, and drill into detailed student lists.

Informing Financial Planning

Institutions quickly realized that the fallout of the pandemic is not only an operational challenge but poses a serious threat to budgets and the financial sustainability of the months and years ahead. Campus financial leaders and budget teams typically have a good grasp on key financial metrics, but with so many revenue and expense assumptions changing, existing models for financial planning are no longer sufficient.   

Every institution is creating scenarios for the fall and beyond to project likely financial outcomes. Whether it’s a back of the napkin calculation or a sophisticated model using specialized budget software, every model needs better data to inform those scenarios and ensure they are as accurate as possible. The HelioCampus platform allows users to quickly segment student populations to understand nuances in yield, enrollment, credit load, and persistence that are critical for creating accurate financial models.

What happens if international students from certain countries don’t return? What if students who live more than 100 miles from campus retain at a much lower rate? What if yield is 10% lower for those with more than $10K unmet need? To answer these and similar questions, an integrated and robust data set is needed to quickly iterate on the what if analysis. The HelioCampus platform and the support of our analyst and data science team is being leveraged to dive into these questions and more.

The Power of Community

Our client services teams are in conversations each week with our clients and are hearing about their institutional challenges and data needs as the pandemic evolves. We’ve had the opportunity to share some best practices and make connections between our clients undergoing similar challenges and are looking for data to inform their short and longer term strategies. Forward looking leaders have always relied on data to inform strategies and operations, but the current pandemic has made that need even more timely and critical for the ongoing success of institutions.

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