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April 17, 2023 | Institutional effectiveness

Are you in the driver’s seat or is your institution at risk for a wrong turn?

For forward-thinking colleges and universities, Institutional Effectiveness is no longer the small office that helps with accreditation. Nor is re-accreditation their sole proof of quality. Instead, these institutions are ensuring their staying power and cultural relevance by taking a new, broader approach. We call it Institutional Effectiveness 2.0.

IE 2.0 is a proactive, analytics-based way of improving institutions and driving change. Its holistic perspective recognizes that institutions’ core functions—student success, academic programming, and administrative operations—affect each other and the institution overall. Widely sharing data, transparent decision-making and cross-campus collaboration are key to the IE 2.0 process.

Putting Institutional Effectiveness 2.0 in action requires integrated planning

As many institutions face enrollment volatility, the default is to view the challenge as a revenue problem. This may cause them to miss an opportunity to review their current cost structure in greater depth. Unfortunately, for many institutions costs are increasing at a faster clip than revenue - or even worse, institutions are approaching the inflection point where expenses exceed revenues, causing an operating deficit.

How institutions balance the scale between growing revenues and managing costs requires an intentional approach to integrated planning. Integrated planning provides “the mechanisms for gathering and using institutional data…[that are] merged, interpreted, and rendered actionable as part of a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts.”

When institutions adopt this strategic view of integrated planning, it fosters transparency and a shared understanding of institutional processes. This focuses departments on a common institution-wide goal or problem, encourages improvement-focused questioning, and normalizes data usage as core to the day-to-day operations of the institution. Departments see themselves as part of the whole whose goals must dovetail with the institutions’ overall mission and planning to thrive. 

Shifting culture and creating collaboration

For most colleges and universities, using data to ask complex, action-oriented questions, sharing data and decision-making broadly, and working across departmental boundaries represents a culture shift.

Many decentralized colleges and universities face hidden, costly difficulties. Departments like academic affairs operate separately from student services, and both stand apart from the finance office or facilities. Data is housed in standalone systems. Their strategic objectives run adjacent to other departments but lack a common understanding and a single source of truth to measure progress toward a common goal.

When institutions engage in integrated planning, the different perspectives of departments can color a more vibrant picture, feed potential solutions, and open new opportunities. Over time, this collaboration builds trust. And this trust builds to make it easier to address future problems, share responsibility and create cross-campus initiatives that benefit the institution as a whole. Institutions become more proactive, flexible, and better able to adapt when conditions change.

Integrated planning is the core process that unifies institutions in evaluating the effectiveness of their academic programming, administrative operations, and student outcomes, ongoing and in real-time. 

Keeping an eye on the prize

In our work with colleges and universities, we’ve learned that when institutions have a problem, there’s no single silver bullet. No big decision that will fix “it.” It’s many little things, done intentionally, and incrementally that add up and make a big difference.

Start small and build up from there. You might choose to focus on a specific initiative rather than an institution-wide project. Select an issue that’s crucial to your institution and dive in. Or, perhaps start with enrollments, or student retention or degree completions. Based on what you find and the questions it sparks, you may want to expand into the financial aspects such as how financial aid is delivered or how it’s impacting net tuition revenue.

IE 2.0 gives leaders tools to navigate change

Data literacy combined with open discussion helps everyone understand the context for decisions, the magnitude of the problem, and potential solutions and outcomes. Using scenarios, the institution’s future moves from anything’s possible to the two or three most likely possibilities. That provides more certainty about what’s going to happen and clear, justifiable reason for making specific decisions.

Turning the ship takes time

It’s never too soon to adopt principles like integrated planning to fuel IE 2.0. Colleges and universities operate in semester, annual and educational program-length cycles. Changes and results take time. Waiting until a problem shows itself, rather than continuously monitoring, can make it more difficult or impossible to solve.

Colleges and universities are more like aircraft carriers than speedboats. You can’t turn them on a dime. Ongoing monitoring of student outcomes, financials and administrative functioning make a difference over time. It can energize your institution with innovative opportunities and keep you controlling your own ship.

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