Editorial Pick 2015: College president reimagines analytics with dramatic success

At EDUCAUSE, president creates an independent Office of Analytics to drive performance management.

office-of-analytics[Editor’s Note: Our editorial picks include stories the editors believe either highlighted an important issue in 2015 and/or signaled the beginning of an escalating trend or issue for 2016.]

It increased student enrollment while reducing student recruitment expenses, increased course completion and persistence rates, and informed policy changes across campus with effective results. It’s also completely autonomous and spearheaded by the college President.

It’s called the Office of Analytics at University of Maryland University College (UMUC), and it began with the vision of President Javier Miyares, who wanted to not only unlock the potential of institutional data across multiple areas, but turn the data into a profit for the college.

UMUC, an open access college with 85,000 student enrollments each year, found themselves dealing with challenges many institutions currently face: a focus and delivery on student success, decreasing funds, an evolving business model, and a completion agenda. And just like other institutions, UMUC knew that data had the potential to help ease the challenges.

Invest in a solution

“The problem is most presidents have heard the word but don’t know how to execute,” explained Miyares during a session at last week’s EDUCAUSE 2015. “We have less than 10 percent of revenue coming from the state and had a 50 percent decline in enrollments in 2012. We had to cut 60 million from the budget and fire 300 people, and that’s when we knew we had to take what we had left and invest in the priority: analytics.”

The Office of Analytics, which has a team of 14 people (half functional data analysts that build analytics dashboards and work with users, and half backend data architects), was designed to be a unit independent of IT and accountable to no specific department.

Using a mix of skills in data engineering, analysis, and business intelligence, the Office focuses on analytics subject areas such as executive and academic program dashboards, marketing, enrollment management, retention, financials, and service centers. A service catalog includes predictive analytics, metrics dashboards, forecast modeling, Ad Hoc reporting, operational reporting, and variance analysis.

Ad Hoc reporting, explained Darren Catalano, the Vice President of Analytics for UMUC, is perhaps the most dynamic service as it interprets data gathered from source systems, replicates the data into higher-performance computing, and then normalizes and models the data in a central repository to be presented in a series of interactive dashboards. An analyst is then assigned to each functional area to interpret the data to users and identify key trends.

“Our approach is to demonstrate the “art of possible” to the institution,” said Catalano; “in other words, to make complex data simple.”

According to Miyares, there are 5 lessons in leveraging analytics to deliver what’s possible:

(Next page: 5 lessons)