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November 17, 2022 | Institutional effectiveness

How to Improve Your Institutional Effectiveness Strategy

Much like the Fellowship’s journey to Mordor, higher ed’s journey to IE has had its difficulties. And thanks to a crash course with our good pal Sean Bean, we now know the 3 challenges impacting institutional effectiveness in higher ed:

  1. Decentralized or insular decision-making
  2. Failure to make connections between investments and outcomes 
  3. Lack of metrics, or an inability to define success

If your institution is struggling with these same challenges, you may be asking yourself: what now? How do I navigate this important but difficult road?

How Has Institutional Effectiveness Changed in Higher Education?

Today's colleges and universities face dramatic shifts in the higher ed market. The cost of a college education has tripled in the last 20 years. Parents and students are questioning the value of a degree and asking to see evidence that their investment will lead to employment. Meanwhile, institutions are dealing with cost containment on their campuses as they navigate higher operating costs and staffing constraints. And all of this is happening while shifting to virtual or hybrid models in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many colleges have had to close their doors or seek out acquisition to survive.

To add even more pressure, accreditation agencies are adjusting their requirements to respond to this market shift. With stricter accreditation conditions, colleges and universities can’t just show their commitment to academic achievement. They need to prove their financial sustainability and that they’re preparing their students for life after graduation—factoring in loan repayment rates, future employment, licensure passage, and other career-focused markers when they evaluate student success.

It’s clear that the higher ed landscape has changed and, ready or not, a new era is upon us…

Sean Bean's character Ned Stark from Game of Thrones looking defensive and holding a sword with text saying "Brace yourselves... institutional effectiveness 2.0 is coming"


3 Ways to Improve Your Institutional Effectiveness Strategy

There are already higher ed leaders taking a more holistic view of accreditation and sustainability, centralizing their IE offices, and connecting their academic and administrative data. 

Here are 3 ways you can level up your institutional effectiveness strategy:

1. An actionable strategic plan

Most colleges and universities already have a strategic planning process in place to guide evaluation, assessment, improvement and innovation initiatives. But unless that plan is actionable, achievable, and driven by reliable data, it won’t achieve the necessary results. The most effective strategic plans enable an institution to measure how well it is fulfilling its mission and achieving its goals, and offer insight into the path ahead.

2. A centralized Data Infrastructure

How do you know if you’re meeting the goals established in your strategic plans? A critical part of institutional effectiveness 2.0 in higher education (IE 2.0) is a comprehensive data infrastructure—which means colleges and universities need a central system to capture, analyze, measure, and report on metrics across the entire institution. Questions like “Are we recruiting students who will be most successful at our institution?” or “What percentage of faculty are meeting or exceeding their teaching requirements?” can only be answered by looking at data gathered across various departments and units. 

3. Visibility to data across functional units

Improving your data infrastructure alone will not provide the holistic view needed to drive true institutional effectiveness. IE 2.0 also requires an understanding of institutional relationships within and across functional units. The final puzzle piece is to strive for unified visibility across academic and administrative functions to inform cross-functional decision-making and broad use cases. Once unified visibility is achieved, institutions can start to ask—and answer—even bigger questions like “is our spending aligned with our mission” or “what is the probability of hitting our desired enrollment target?” 

Once these three components are in place, along with plans to review them on an ongoing basis, you can accelerate your path to long-term sustainability and consistently deliver on your mission.


Why You Should Change Your Institutional Effectiveness Strategy

If higher ed right now is a rocky sea, IE 2.0 is the lighthouse in the distance. Having a direction doesn’t make it easy to get there. But the payoff of facing that storm and embracing this new approach at your institution is worth it: smarter, informed, data-driven decisions; a foundation for long-term financial sustainability amid external and internal economic pressures; and the ability to improve student learning and prove the value of your institution to both accreditors and students alike.

As you put these 3 core components into practice, your institution may find itself “data rich and information poor” or lacking the in-house talent needed to make these changes. To overcome these barriers, you may choose to work with an institutional effectiveness partner to put the technology, people, and processes in place to accelerate your path to IE 2.0. 

Either way, adopting IE 2.0’s holistic, centralized, and data-driven approach will provide you with the resiliency, foresight and flexibility you need to meet the future— which is coming much faster than you may think.

Graphic of two women who are working together to put together a huge, life-sized puzzle.

Download the full Institutional Effectiveness 2.0 guide book to see what a new path forward for higher education might look like at your college or university.


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