Does Big Data have a place in community colleges?

If I ask 10 people to define predictive analytics and how it is used on their respective campuses to improve student outcomes, I am likely to hear stories about how colleges are using their data systems to provide access to decision makers.

analyticsSome may go on to describe the tools that they use to provide access to data to faculty, staff, and administers.

Most often, however, the definition or stories are dependent on where colleges are in their journey on building a robust and rigorous culture of evidence to improve student outcomes.

Maya Angelou once said, “Wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.” This quote got me to think about the journey that I’ve been on not only with the two colleges where I work but also the Achieving the Dream colleges that I provide technical assistance to as a data coach.

Shifting our thinking about which numbers to track

As I reflect on the last 17 years and how the use of data has evolved at community colleges, I think back to the early 1990s when our primary focus of data discussions was based on enrollment numbers.

All of our questions where centered on whether we had sufficient sections to meet our enrollment targets. These discussions became even more critical during planning for a “base year,” which drives the funding formula for community colleges in Texas.

However in the late 1990s early 2000s, we began to hear more public criticism about graduation rates at community colleges and the push to move into performance based funding.

It was during this time that I remember the dialogue at my college shifting to include more serious discussions about key student outcomes.

Nurturing an analytical culture

Achieving the Dream (ATD) hit our college at a time when we were ready to take our journey to the next level. When ATD announced that it would award a small grant to community colleges that committed to rethink their approach to student success by building a culture of evidence and engagement to improve student outcomes, my college jumped at the opportunity and was selected as one of the first twenty-seven colleges invited to participate in 2004.

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