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September 5, 2019 | Institutional data analytics, Leadership insights

An Opportunity to Transform Institutional Analytics

When I first started in higher education data analytics in 2013, after transitioning from academic astrophysics, my initial impression was: “This is it, huh?” I was a bit underwhelmed by the sophistication of the data tools and analyses that were used for decision making. Of course, over the course of 6 years in various positions in IT and IR at the University of Kentucky (UK), including three years as Executive Director of Institutional Research and Lead Data Scientist, I learned that using data analytics at an enterprise scale was far more complex than I had imagined. The barriers to success will be familiar to anyone who has spent any time in the higher education industry: source data systems that are not integrated, not accessible, and not designed for reporting or analytics; the unglamorous but hugely important work of educating people, updating processes, and changing culture; and all the natural complexity inherent to an organization that can daily see over 50,000 people set foot on campus.

 Still, we managed to make tremendous progress at UK in improving the data available for institutional decision making. We implemented a retention program based on predictive modeling to provide the right resources to the right students at the right times. We used quantitative models to first identify unmet financial need as a primary driver of student attrition, and then created a data-informed strategy to reallocate millions of financial aid dollars to allow more students to be able to afford to attend UK. We integrated our student success and institutional financials data to build a budget that both better reflected and supported our core academic mission. Moreover, we built a culture of data literacy and a community of data analysis practitioners, where analysts in Colleges and units throughout the institution had access to data, knew how to use it, and made better decisions with it. I am very proud to have worked with a fantastic team that made all this and more happen, and I look forward to watching UK as they continue to be a leader in the analytics field within higher education.

 Earlier this summer, I decided to join HelioCampus. I have known and watched this company for several years, and have seen how they’ve quickly grown into an industry leader. I’ve always thought that HelioCampus takes the right approach to analytics. I’ve met a lot of vendors selling the magical instant cure-all snake oil of “predictive analytics.”  HelioCampus has always made a tougher pitch - that creating an institutional analytics capacity is a process, and that institutions need to build a culture of data literacy and fully understand their institution's data before predictive analytics and other data science tools can be employed successfully. HelioCampus can help accelerate the process, but it can’t make it instantaneous or entirely painless. I firmly believe this is the right approach that will ultimately create the most value for our customers.

 Higher education is widely recognized as going through a transformative period, where changing student demographics, a growing backlash to rising tuition costs, disruptive teaching technologies, and other pressures are forcing institutions to re-visit every aspect of their academic and business models. Having a robust institutional analytics program to help inform decision making is quickly becoming a strategic necessity for institutions hoping to successfully navigate this changing landscape. Yet, having come from an institution that built an analytics program from scratch, I’ve seen how difficult and resource-intensive it can be to accomplish. While there are a number of institutions who have built strong analytics capacities, many others have not had the resources or expertise to do so. Hence the need for a company like HelioCampus, which can bring both the technological expertise to create a data analytics platform, and also the methodologies, lessons learned, and understanding of higher education decision-making that come from having successfully implemented analytics programs at other institutions.

 I joined HelioCampus because I believe that we can help Colleges and Universities achieve their academic missions and improve financial sustainability. I’ve found a company full of fantastically smart and enthusiastic people, who are helping to make higher education better every day. I’m super excited about being able to impact the success of each of our client institutions, and ultimately the students they serve.

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