I first began working 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 six years in various positions in information technology (IT) and institutional research (IR) at the University of Kentucky, 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 are 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
- All the natural complexity inherent to an organization that can see over 50,000 people set foot on campus daily
Still, we managed to make tremendous progress in improving the data available for institutional decision-making at the institution. 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 afford attending the institution. We integrated our student success and institutional financial data to build a budget that 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.
I joined HelioCampus after watching the company quickly grow into an industry leader. While working on the institution side, I met a lot of vendors selling the magical instant cure-all snake oil of “predictive analytics.” One of the reasons I chose to work at HelioCampus was their decision to make a tougher pitch. Institutional analytics capacity is a process, and institutions must build a culture of data literacy—and fully understand their data—before predictive analytics and other data science tools can be employed successfully. HelioCampus helps accelerate the process, but our company can’t make it instantaneous or entirely painless. I firmly believe this is the right approach that ultimately creates the most value for our customers.
As higher education navigates the industry-shifting effects of the pandemic, the looming enrollment cliff, and more, institutions are revisiting every aspect of their academic and business models. Having a robust analytics program to help inform data driven decision-making in higher education is quickly becoming a strategic necessity for institutions hoping to successfully navigate the 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 which have built strong analytics capabilities, many others lack the bandwidth and 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.
For the past four years, I have been designing products at HelioCampus that allow institutions to apply data analytics to solving practical problems. I have leaned on my direct experience working for a higher education institution while also constantly learning new skills in order to innovate. I’ve had a hand in launching one of our most recent endeavors, Financial Modeling, and have also supported the release of LMS Insights and Academic Performance Management - both resources that have helped institutions like The University of South Carolina and The University of Southern Mississippi better understand and serve their students. Each has made a meaningful impact, and I am looking forward to helping each of these products grow and evolve to better serve our higher education clients—as well as their students.
I originally joined HelioCampus because I believed that we could help colleges and universities achieve their academic missions and improve financial sustainability. In the years since, I’ve found a company filled with fantastically smart and enthusiastic people who are helping to make higher education better every day. If you’re interested in learning more about the specific tools I’ve had a hand in developing, I invite you to explore each of them further: