Colleges and universities are home to the most advanced thinking and research in all fields: medicine, law, mathematics, business and beyond. Ironically, such schools haven’t always been as smart when it comes to higher education data. This has been unfortunate, because the data needs of today’s two and four-year degree granting institutions are as diverse and multidimensional as they come.

But many academic institutions are learning new tricks by adopting self-service analytics. The following are four ways higher education is smartening up when it comes to data.

1. Empowering people to work with data

Like other industries and organizations, the traditional way of dealing with data in higher education was fragmented and slow. The IT department—and only the IT department—had access to the data, which was doled out in reports that were slow to come. IT was like an ivory tower within the ivory tower, and the faculty, staff and administrators who needed the data spent most of their time waiting for reports that would be out-of-date on arrival.

This cycle of long waits, static results and general inefficiency is going the way of chalk and blackboards at many schools, like the University of Washington (UW), which has been using UW Profiles since 2012. This project is a set of 23 dashboards that give administrators and faculty more flexible and powerful insight into data, such as performance, retention and support.  Now inquisitive UW leaders have a recursive relationship with their data where answering one set of questions leads them down a path of seeking answers to a deeper set of questions.

2. Bringing serious speed to data

Self-service analytics is all about the democratization of data, which inherently creates a faster journey to insight: the people who are experts in the data can start working with their data quickly, with minimal training or IT knowledge. Just like people are used to finding the answer to a question on their phone, laptop or tablet at home, they can get business or academic answers at work.

But, that speed has many dimensions.

For example, the University of Indiana—a huge research university—has been enjoying the fast pace of self-service analytics for years. Enrollment and recruiting officers use dashboards to dive into student data from any angle and depth necessary at high speeds. Trends that used to take weeks or months to identify can now be spotted in hours or minutes.

Another aspect of self-service analytics is the significant reduction in ramp time. Training and adoption are a matter of hours rather than months. Departments that need answers quickly appreciate rapid deployment, and it makes trying new tools less of a risk.

(Next page: 2 more ways higher education is getting the jump on data)

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