Can Big Data Save Higher Education? ?>

Can Big Data Save Higher Education?

I warn you that this is a bit of a rallying cry. A wake up and start thinking creatively cry. A, you better start listening or you will be crying type of rallying cry.

We are living in the age of data, where our movements are tracked, aggregated into large data sets, and analyzed to build predictive models about how people like “us” behave, engage, and ultimately purchase. I can say quite confidently that in Higher Education – a world where ideas have been tested and validated for centuries – data  has become king. But the biggest question is, how can data save universities and ultimately help them thrive?

The once hidden institutional research departments are now at the forefront of the kingdom, where Chief Information Officers are finding correlations between earth-shattering data sets like the number of students who bought ice cream at the student center when the temperature outside was between 40 and 52 degrees. This type of insight is helping them determine how much ice cream should be ordered based on the extended 10 day forecast. But seriously, institutions now have dashboards that tell them the “what” and “how” of everyday operations. The only question is: What does all of this data really mean and how can it be used to create a better university. As participants and leaders in higher education we need to challenge ourselves to look at data in new ways in order to uncover insights that are truly new and can be used to create significant value across the enterprise.

People inside higher education tend to forget that the industry is market driven and that the people who want to purchase your product are ultimately the ones that control the growth and sustainability of your university.

So how do you understand what your market wants – what it expects of you – and where the biggest opportunities are for impact? Well you listen to your market. You not only use surveys, but you contextualize anecdotal evidence with true data sets – business, social, and market data. If properly empowered with the data that matters, university administrators can make daily decisions that are more likely to have an actual business impact. The implications string across the critical functions of your institution: recruiting, marketing, alumni management, development, faculty retention, and student satisfaction. The amount and nature of the data that can be gathered is evolving rapidly, so you have to find creative ways to cut through the clutter and you have to make some real decisions.

It doesn’t always feel good to shut down a program that started 50 years ago, or shrink your class size to maintain classroom quality, but it feels even worse to be irrelevant…There are deep insights hidden within your data and they are telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. So are you listening? How are you tracking? And more importantly, are you adapting based on what you hear?

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