As more and more institutions shift to deeper data sophistication as part of their decision-making process, the need for quality data governance and analytical transparency grows, as well. As Lauren Glenn Manfuso explains in her article for EdTech Magazine, “With the increasing digitalization of institutional metrics—academic performance, tuition revenue, student health, diversity and inclusion, and more—has come a level of data proliferation that many colleges and universities are struggling to make sense of and manage. As a result, more universities are embracing the concept of data governance.”
Especially when dealing with budgets and staffing, an institution’s ability to not only provide reliable data, but also to compare it against other reputable colleges and universities can make a tremendous difference.
Taking the initiative
HelioCampus has aided numerous institutions in this process, including a major southeastern public research university which adopted our Benchmarking Consortium dataset after a leadership transition.
Not long after the university underwent its leadership shift, the institution began changing its budget planning strategies. The university valued best practices and sought to incorporate this approach into its financial discussions. Peer comparisons for staffing administrative offices was of particular interest to the institution. In addition to exploring centralization versus decentralization, the university wanted to discover cost efficiencies, as well as ways to more efficiently deliver services. Joining the HelioCampus Benchmarking Consortium was a major part of this process.
Taking things a step further; however, leadership decided it didn’t just want to hope staff might make use of this trove of insights, so it mandated each office and program incorporate the Benchmarking Consortium data into its annual budget presentation to establish justifications based on labor spend data.
As one member of the leadership team explained, “We were looking at efficient delivery of services across the university. That was our goal. We had some inklings as to where services were efficiently delivered, where they were not efficiently delivered based on resource allocation…but, it was just a rumor. We didn’t have any data to confirm. We could come up with some internal benchmarks, but we didn’t have anything to compare against. So, when we loaded the Benchmarking Consortium data into the tool, it allowed us to see it validated. In some cases, it was surprising that, ‘No, that wasn’t the case.’ It was just anecdotal.”
Because the university was determined to see Benchmarking Consortium data adopted across the institution, the leadership team setup hour-long meetings with key stakeholders throughout campus, encouraging them to invite any relevant team members to join in gaining a better initial understanding of how the tool operated and how utilization of the data could benefit their office or program.
Those were not the only discussions, however. Leadership would also conduct follow-up meetings to glean valuable feedback on what datapoints or insights might help faculty and staff make even further use of the benchmarking datasets. This need to understand and inform how sub-teams utilize data to avoid silos and fragmentation wasn’t unique to this university, however. As Avinash Tripathi explains in his Fast Company article on higher ed’s need to embrace data governance, “Student data fragmentation and governance are two important challenges that universities face in the digital age. Data is often compartmentalized across departments, schools, and systems. This fragmentation hinders obtaining a 360-degree understanding of students’ experiences across the student life cycle. To address this, universities should establish a data governance framework that ensures the management of data while also addressing privacy and security concerns.”
A need for budgetary transparency from institutions has become more and more pertinent over the past decade. By providing full access to HelioCampus’s Benchmarking Consortium data to staff across campus, the university further contributed to a culture of transparency and data-informed decision-making. Every office and program was aware of the analytics impacting strategic plans and could use that same data to lobby for their resource needs.
This access not only allowed units to see the very datasets that were informing decisions, but it also allowed unit leaders to understand the tool, as well as the role it played in the decision-making process at the leadership level.
An important byproduct the university sought to leverage by rolling out adoption across the institution was to remove the “middle person” from data insights and outputs. Because valuable data was often not directly accessible for offices and required a requested data pull, this had the potential to lead to data silos where previously requested information might continue to exist in a manually updated offline place. By making the consortium data available campus-wide, offices could immediately access up-to-date data.
This mass adoption of Benchmarking Consortium data for budget presentations not only allowed for more of the institution to gain a deeper understanding of where resource allocation stood in comparison to peer and aspirational universities, but offices and programs were also joining the feedback discussion, helping to inform HelioCampus of additional data or categories which could benefit Consortium members.
Shifting from anecdotal to analytical
While previously a program or office might have relied on anecdotal examples to pitch their new resource requests, they could now leverage common datasets to provide hard evidence of their staffing and resource requests. This shift to verifiable data comparison was at the crux of the university’s push to make Benchmarking Consortium data ubiquitous across campus.
Another important factor in campus-wide adoption was clear and direct onboarding. The leadership team understood that by planning ahead—from preemptive, hour-long education meetings with unit leaders to transparency-encouraging campus-wide access—the university’s adoption and implementation could truly take off.
Bringing it all together
Not only did the university make immediate use of HelioCampus’s Benchmarking Consortium datasets, it also leveraged the company’s insights and methodologies to speed up and lock-in best practice strategies for effective data governance and management. Shortly after the adoption of HelioCampus’s Benchmarking Consortium datasets, the university had more than 100 users consistently taking advantage of the analytics.
Taking a holistic, accessible approach to data-driven insights is essential. In a HelioCampus case study, Pennie Turgeon, VP for IT and CIO at the New York Institute of Technology and former VP of IT and CIO for Clark University encouraged, “Implement good change-management practices. You need to democratize the data. Make sure it’s accessible, but still secure—and empower people to understand and use their own data...There is definitely a data fluency component—you can’t just build all this and put it in their hands without providing guidance and training…The right partner can be a real catalyst to accelerate your work with data governance and data fluency.”
As more institutions—as well as the trustee and board members who oversee their operations—lean further into data-driven decision-making, the need for a proven partner who can help build and advise a best-in-class approach intensifies. Is your institution looking to not only increase its utilization of data-backed decision-making, but also increase campus-wide confidence in the reliability of that data, as well? Explore how other institutions have partnered with HelioCampus to build a pathway to quality data governance and improved decision-making.
EdTech Magazine (2023)
Fast Company (2023)