What are higher-ed’s analytics priorities?

Higher-ed leaders are increasingly focused on institutional analytics, despite challenges associated with implementing enterprise-wide programs, according to a new Ellucian survey of 200 college presidents, provosts, CFOs, CTOs, and CIOs.

Fifty-eight percent of surveyed leaders say institutional analytics that improve operational efficiency are of greater priority than learning analytics that will improve student outcomes, according to What Will It Take to Build an Analytics-Driven Campus?

Analytics priorities seem to differ by role, with presidents, CFOs, and CIOs focusing on improved learning outcomes; provosts are focused on improved retention and completion; and CTOs are concerned with improved operational efficiency.


How to make data meaningful for today’s students

This year in the United States, over 21 million students will enroll in one of over 6,000 schools. How will they fare?

Will they graduate? Transfer? Wind up employed? Will their investment in college be worth it?

Given the current data infrastructure of higher education, we won’t know the answer to any of those fundamental questions. This severely hampers students’, parents’, and the federal government’s ability to make smart investments in college. The lack of data also prevents higher education from moving forward: without good data on outcomes, stakeholders are locked into an input-based regulatory structure that constrains innovation.

The system today

Higher education data today is collected by colleges and universities themselves, is largely self-reported, and until very recently, included little data on the outcomes of part-time students, or of students who had transferred from another institution. If a student attends multiple institutions, a reliable record of his experiences is weak at best.

This makes it nearly impossible to assess performance of schools. Do low graduation rates mean that colleges are failing students? Or are some institutions helping students traverse an expensive higher ed landscape in an affordable way? We have no idea.

Collecting data at the institutional level also means that we know very little about which programs at each school are effectively equipping students with the skills they need to succeed—and which are not. This makes it very hard for students to make good decisions about where to attend school. While there are school rankings for some majors, these ranking systems are input driven, and say little about the outcomes students can expect to achieve.

Current data practices make it especially difficult to assess innovative and online programs. The data we have on each school doesn’t differentiate between the outcomes of a school’s on-campus population and its online population. Because online students are more likely to attend part-time, the quality of the data on these programs are weaker overall. Even for fully online schools, reported outcomes may only reflect the experiences of the small number of students who enrolled as full-time, first-time freshman.


To balance innovation with protecting students, focus on incentives

Online education holds tremendous promise: it has the potential to lower costs, enhance learning outcomes, and make college accessible for students who lack the flexibility or means to attend a traditional program. As a nation, our goal should be to improve and scale the highest quality online programs, thereby reducing costs for students, and making the most of the over $500 billion we collectively spend on higher education each year. We should also do our best to protect students from low quality programs—and we should especially avoid investing federal money in programs that produce poor outcomes.

Unfortunately, federal higher education policy isn’t set up to do any of those things. As we argue in a recent policy brief, Congress can do better. In reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, lawmakers not only should aim to give institutions the flexibility to develop instructional models that take advantage of the potential of technology, but also should focus on incentivizing quality through outcomes-based measures.

Distance vs. correspondence? Where federal policy stands today

Distance education was first defined by the Higher Education Act in 1992. At the time, the primary aim of lawmakers was to address waste, fraud and abuse by “correspondence programs,” which sent course materials mainly through the mail. In the 1980s, these had been responsible for an outsized share of student loan defaults. The language developed in 1992—which permissively noted that transmission by microwave was acceptable—excluded correspondence programs from receiving federal funds, but did not anticipate how online learning would develop, and therefore have proved wholly inadequate to regulate online education.

The key variable separating distance education from correspondence programs was the concept of “regular and substantive interaction” between students and instructors. This has led to a series of Department of Education regulations on what is “regular,” what is “substantive,” and who is an “instructor.” These regulations constrain the ability of online programs to innovate around the instructional model, but they do nothing to ensure strong outcomes for students.

In 1992, online programs were just emerging, but today over 30 percent of students are learning online. Regulations which encourage innovation—while protecting students—have never been more important for online programs.


Congress should prioritize innovation in higher ed. Here are 3 ways it can

Washington D.C. is slowly turning its attention to higher education. In December, on a party-line vote, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce released the PROSPER Act, a bill to update the Higher Education Act for the first time since 2008.

The Higher Education Act (HEA), first passed in 1965, outlines federal higher education policy, including federal financial aid eligibility, teacher preparation programs, and how the federal government holds colleges accountable. It has also historically been a barrier to innovation in higher education, something that the authors of the PROSPER Act are determined to remedy.

The path to an updated HEA will likely be long. The Senate Higher Education Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) has been holding hearings on the HEA, and has signaled its intent to continue doing so. The full House hasn’t set a date to debate or vote on PROSPER, and some House members feel the process has already moved too quickly, without sufficient bipartisan debate.

But regardless of whether the process is long or short—and Washington D.C. can be unpredictable—Congress should keep innovation at the top of its higher education agenda. In our latest brief, Modernizing the HEA: Congressional priorities for innovation in higher education, I examine Congress’ critical role in encouraging innovation in order to help America meet the needs of the next generation. Here’s a summary:

America’s higher education system isn’t working

Technology is changing the nature of work in industries far from Silicon Valley, including manufacturing, healthcare, and retail. Studies estimate that nearly half of current jobs face a high risk of obsolescence caused by technology over the next few decades. Americans will need to be able to reskill and upskill in order to stay afloat in a hyper-competitive global economy.

But college isn’t providing an affordable solution. Costs are escalating dramatically, and outcomes are weak: four-year completion rates for students at public schools are below 35 percent. Managers report that over a third of graduates have inadequate writing skills, public speaking skills, and data acumen.

Efforts to increase access to college are important. But so long as we have a system that is unaffordable and ineffective, increasing access to that system doesn’t solve America’s higher education problems. We need to radically rethink our higher education system.

The HEA has prioritized the status quo over students

The regulatory structures that should protect taxpayers and students, including HEA, but also accreditation and the Department of Education, fall short. They pay too much attention to the inputs of higher education—like faculty degrees and shared governance—and far too little to its outcomes—such as graduation rates or student employment outcomes.

As an example, the Department’s recent audit of WGU explicitly didn’t consider the school’s low student loan default rates, cheap tuition, strong student satisfaction, or healthy job placement rates. It did, however, ding the online, competency-based program for not having a “traditional” instructional model. Yet, WGU’s instructional model is specifically designed to meet the needs of its student body, and is part of what has driven the school’s strong outcomes.

Accreditation too has tended to prioritize inputs over student outcomes. Accreditors have pursued their own definitions of quality, focusing on the processes, plans, and procedures that colleges follow; but this definition does little to protect students and taxpayers from waste, abuse, and poor outcomes. Equally troubling, this focus on inputs, rather than outcomes, also deters, dissuades, and—in some cases—prevents colleges from innovating.

New models are demonstrating replicable successes

Innovators are rapidly iterating on models that have potential to lower costs and improve outcomes for students and the workforce. Some of these innovators are reinventing college degree programs within traditional institutions. Others are entrepreneurs developing models—like bootcamp programs and stackable microcredentials—that potentially compete with traditional college degrees. But what they have in common is that they are innovating around a new value proposition: helping students succeed in the workplace.

These new models have lessons to teach traditional higher education. But in order for these lessons to be adopted by more schools, and in order for their benefits to reach more students, Congress needs to act to unleash innovation in higher education.

What Congress can do to support innovation

  1. Rethink regulation of online and competency-based education
    Innovations in online and competency-based education have far outpaced the rules and regulations that govern them. The HEA’s definition of “distance education” dates from 1992, well before the online education market reached maturity. Competency-based education has never been defined in the HEA, and as such has been a square peg in a round regulatory hole.The PROSPER Act takes steps to address the current shortcomings in the law. It addresses, but does not define, competency-based education. It removes the definition of distance education, and removes many of the double standards around online learning. But while the previous draft of the HEA wasn’t an effective check against waste, fraud, and abuse in online education, the PROSPER Act isn’t likely to be either. Further work should be done to define competency-based education and to provide outcomes-focused rules of the road.
  2. Reform accreditation: Focus on outcomes, not inputs
    Accreditors should be encouraged to focus primarily on whether institutions are creating value for students. Those that do so should be given wide latitude in how they do so. Institutions that do not create value for students should be heavily scrutinized, and the peer-review nature of accreditation could become a creative, collaborative tool to improve low-performing schools. Moving to assess the quality of all programs by focusing on outcomes—learning assessments, graduation rates, student employment outcomes, ability to repay loans, and student satisfaction—should level the playing field for online and competency-based education.The PROSPER Act streamlines the burden on accreditors, getting rid of nearly a dozen federal accreditation standards. Instead, accreditors are asked to assess the success of institutions when it comes to outcomes and student learning relative to the mission of the school. But it also puts the onus on accreditors to scrutinize underperforming institutions more closely. These changes are largely positive, as they give accreditors more freedom to address innovative models and a more explicit obligation to address quality issues in the market.
  3. Improve the basic data infrastructure of higher education
    No market can function rationally without information on the value consumers do or do not reap. Moving to an individual student record could shed much-needed light on an industry that is bringing in half a trillion dollars each year and spending it in the dark. Collecting data at the student level, rather than at the level of the institution, could create tremendous benefits to institutions and regulators seeking to track whether their innovations are effectively moving the needle on student outcomes.Representative Virginia Foxx, the Chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, has been an ardent privacy advocate and long-time opponent of an individual student record system. Her views are reflected in the PROSPER Act, which takes other avenues to address data and accountability concerns. While these mechanisms are an improvement on current practices, an individual student record system continues to be the ideal solution to understand the paths that students take through higher education and how to best innovate against their needs.

This post was originally published on The Christensen Institute’s blog here.


3 proven ways to improve higher-ed collaboration

Collaboration across departments has been identified as the fundamental differentiator in achieving strategic objectives in not only the business community but also in higher education. Today’s challenging higher-ed environment can benefit from more collaboration, particularly between IT, business, and finance leaders.

The EDUCAUSE/NACUBO 2017 Enterprise IT Summit identified four main areas that can markedly enhance collaboration:

  • development of institutional relationships and partnerships
  • improvement of analytics and data governance initiatives
  • a forward -thinking leadership team to align unit goals with university goals
  • cultivation of a better understanding of IT costs and strategic value

eCampus News highlighted one example that showcased the fruits of collaboration at Emory & Henry College in Emory, Virginia, where IT, finance, and housing collaborated to transform the campus into one of the most digitally connected campuses of its size. Business Officer magazine wrote about a private university where close collaboration between the vice president for advancement and chief business officer during a capital campaign allowed the vice president to tie his asks to strategic initiatives. By working together, they devised a feasible multi-year capital and operating budget that furthers the work of both divisions.

Collaboration across departments in a university setting is no easy task. But, it is ultimately the mechanism that can strengthen the institution’s ability to get things done.

How to collaborate for better financial decision-making

Today, more companies are embracing cross-functional collaboration. While businesses have one main profit goal, higher ed is a complex environment in which the difficulties of collaboration are exacerbated by the complexity of various departmental goals. But improved communication internally will help campuses become more nimble and responsive to necessary changes—from declining budgets to new technologies and changing demographics. The best focus will be on understanding and measuring accountability—and constant evaluation.

So, how can university leaders collaborate more efficiently to improve outcomes and advance their strategic plans? Here are three high-level actions administrators can implement:

1. Improve technical and financial training

As technology drives much of the university experience today, business leaders in higher ed will benefit from becoming more knowledgeable about technology. Sit with the chief information officer and IT staff to understand what’s working and what’s not. This will foster a transparent feedback mechanism and knowledge sharing about software, cloud services, servers, etc.

Additionally, IT staff need to better understand the university mission, P&L, and balance sheets. As part of a cross-functional collaboration team, IT should meet regularly with business leaders on the importance of financial and operational efficiencies.

To truly make cross-collaboration work, incentives should be aligned across the organization for a better understanding of total cost of ownership. Do we need a dedicated full-time employee on digital signage? Can we create work/study programs to cut costs and increase learning opportunities for students? It’s not about eliminating jobs but refocusing them to mission-critical activities.


Social media still ‘fair game’ in admissions process

College admissions officers still believe it’s acceptable practice to check applicants’ social media, but the number who actually do so has declined, due in part to teenagers’ increased use of social media platforms that do not archive content.

Sixty-eight percent of colleges and universities in Kaplan Test Prep’s annual college admissions officer survey say applicant’s social media accounts are “fair game” during the admissions process. They report checking platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to get better ideas of who applicants really are and if they’re likely to be a good fit.

Kaplan conducted a separate survey of 900 high school students reveals that 70 percent of students agree that it’s fair for admissions officers to check out social activity.

While 40 percent of admissions officers in Kaplan’s 2015 college admissions survey said they’ve actually checked applicants’ social media, 35 percent did so last year, and 29 percent report doing so in this year’s survey.

Nine percent of admissions officers say they have revoked an incoming student’s admission based on what they found on social media. Last year, Harvard University revoked acceptances for a handful of students after offensive memes were posted in a private Facebook group for incoming freshmen. 


Coding bootcamps require hard work, but payoff can be worth it

What’s the key to landing the best computer programming jobs? It might be a coding bootcamp, if recent research is any indication.

Seventy-three percent of coding bootcamp graduates secure a STEM job after they graduate, according to a survey from Course Report. Those numbers offer a stark contrast with the 49.5 percent of engineering undergraduates and 49.2 percent of computer, math, and statistics undergraduates with bachelor’s degrees who land STEM jobs, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. That data also indicates 74 percent of people with a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field aren’t working in those professions.

Eighty percent of recent graduates from coding schools—sometimes called coding bootcamps—say the job they obtained after graduation is directly related to, and requires use of, the skills they learned during their coding training, according to the Course Report survey.

Coding bootcamp grads also say they experienced an average salary increase around 51 percent, and the average starting salary of a coding bootcamp grad is $70,698. The typical coding bootcamp student is nontraditional by college and university standards—they are 29 years old, have six years of work experience, earned at least a bachelor’s degree, and they have never worked as a programmer before.

Research shows 36 percent of coding bootcamp students are women, compared to undergraduate computer science degree programs, where women account for just 17.9 percent of students.

As coding bootcamps grow in number and in popularity, more aspiring developers see them as a viable option, due partly to their shorter duration and their targeted, real-world focus.


3 best practices for managing student travel

It’s a familiar challenge for colleges and universities sending students, faculty, and staff on off-campus trips: how to ensure travelers’ health and safety while minimizing security risks. Students study abroad or travel regionally for group events; faculty attend conferences or travel for research purposes. However, it is difficult to predict when crisis situations may arise. From natural disasters to violence and health outbreaks, the list of possible off-campus crisis situations can be overwhelming and fraught with communication disruptions and confusion as events unfold.

As a result, many higher-education institutions are updating their student and faculty travel protocols. This includes using technology to maintain real-time connections with travelers and provide them with emergency resources to be used in the moment of need. It is no longer enough to send travelers with a printout of emergency numbers and instructions. Managing today’s higher-ed travel risks requires ongoing communication. Here are three best practices.

1. Set risk-management expectations

Establishing clear expectations around travel risk is critical. Not every aspect of travel is controllable and travelers must be prepared to act quickly. Also, there are varying degrees of unrest and uncertainty in different regions of the world that require more due diligence and planning.

While many institutions hire external organizations to provide additional local security and health-related support services, it is key to inform students and faculty that they may need to execute emergency protocols abroad. Also, while purchasing health and travel insurance is helpful, it doesn’t remove all risks due to unforeseen circumstances.

To proactively address these issues, you need to communicate the desired set of actions that should be taken for possible emergency situations before the groups depart. This includes preparing travelers on how to check in with home university contacts and how to access the local emergency-resource contacts. Your university should ensure the emergency information is accessible 24/7 online and via mobile devices.

2. Modernize pre-departure orientations

Traveler health and safety is a common topic during pre-trip orientation sessions, but it is also important to include program- and location-specific information that speaks to regionalized nuances and risk factors. For example, students traveling to India may receive specialized advice on taking precautions to avoid pickpockets or staying safe when using public transportation. The majority of students will be using their electronic devices while traveling, so make all essential information available in digital formats and, if possible, with interactive capabilities.


How to improve your career counseling

Colleges and universities are starting a new trend as they combine academic advising with career counseling to decrease student anxieties about finding desirable employment after graduation.

A new analysis from EAB shows that for every 100 students who begin working toward a bachelor’s degree, just 35 will graduate and work in a position requiring a college degree by the age of 27.

Universities want a positive reputation for delivering a good return on education, says Ed Venit, EAB’s managing director. Part of that return on education includes students achieving desirable outcomes—jobs they wouldn’t get if they didn’t have a four-year degree. Institutions are rethinking the ways they prepare students for careers.

“A clear upward trend has been the expansion of the idea of what success is,” Venit says. “Schools want students to have better post-graduation outcomes; universities want students to get the jobs they seek.”

Some schools, including Clark University (Mass.) and James Madison University (Va.), are integrating academic advising and career counseling and extending career preparation across students’ college experiences. These new hybrid advising roles fill a gap between students’ courses and desired career outcomes. EAB’s new report, “Integrating Academic and Career Development,” details those practices.


5 roles university libraries will play in the future

Universities are seeking ways to innovate and keep up with the changing expectations of students and faculty, and university libraries are no different.

Academic libraries are good at adapting as they try to meet students and faculty who learn differently and who have varying expectations for what their university library is.

As physical space, available funding, and student needs change, university libraries will have to adapt to meet different needs and campus roles.

Despite these future changes, the purpose of university libraries remains steady: Academic libraries provide equitable access to information for students to use in their daily lives, whether their purpose is for academic success, to solve problems, or to create new knowledge.

1. They’re still in the business of information access

While the way libraries do things may change, they are still in the service of information discovery, says Cheryl Middleton, president of the Association of College and Research Libraries, which is a division of the American Library Association. Middleton is associate university librarian for research and scholarly communication at Oregon State University.