When big data produces new insights, the results can be stunning. Uncovering new growth opportunities, finding answers to long-asked organizational questions, and using IT resources more effectively are just a few of the outcomes big data can offer.

However, building the integrated data sets necessary for big data to work its magic has historically been challenging for colleges and universities, even more so than for businesses. While higher education institutions do aggregate massive amounts of data, often individual departments collect and review it in isolation.

Fortunately, the introduction of new technology, specifically designed with higher education in mind, is helping to drive a new wave of campus modernization. At Elon University in North Carolina, we’ve been able to harness the power of big data, increasing collaboration across departments and ultimately enhancing the college experience with a true focus on student success. With a renewed campus-wide focus on data and the technology to help us get there, we’ve successfully used big data insights to directly improve student and staff outcomes. Here’s how we did it.

Building a sandbox of innovation
The concept of using student and administrative data to improve the overall experience for students and staff is relatively new to higher education. While colleges and universities already have access to terabytes of potentially useful data, many institutions don’t have the means of aggregating that data across departments to quickly extract actionable information.

How #bigdata is driving innovation at Elon University #analytics #highered

For us, the first step to solve this challenge was creating a flexible digital platform that could collect, integrate, and store a massive amount of data. We needed a solution that would ingest enough data to give us insight into campus processes, practices, and behaviors. We chose Ellucian Colleague® for its flexibility and ease of use. Because it’s hosted in the cloud, we could focus on collecting the right data and pulling the most relevant insights from it, not maintaining IT infrastructure and trying to keep up with application releases.

Improving the college experience and enabling post-graduation success
Once we had the right data feeds integrated across campus, we could begin to create some really exciting and innovative solutions. One recent example is the Elon Experiences Transcript (EET), which is made possible by the student data we’re now tracking. The EET, unlike traditional transcripts, is designed to demonstrate a holistic picture of each student’s skills, interests, and accomplishments by focusing on the specific skills learned through their college experiences.

The EET serves as an interactive portfolio that features more than just a student’s degree and grade point average. It includes descriptions of their work while on campus, explanations of leadership positions they held, and details on courses they took. Potential employers can then dive even deeper to view more detailed information, such as outcomes of specific classes and in-depth descriptions of research in a particular field. The EET gives a more nuanced picture of a potential employee, greatly helping recruiters find the right fit for a job and ensuring Elon students have a better chance of getting hired.

About the Author:

Dr. Rodney L. Parks is the registrar, director of Summer College, and director of Winter Term at Elon University where he has served since January 2013. Dr. Parks also serves as an assistant professor in the Human Services Science Department. Parks earned his Ph.D. in Counseling from the University of Georgia and has published numerous research studies and book chapters focusing on the unique populations of students navigating higher education.

Dr. Parks is also a U.S. Navy veteran having served as a naval medic stationed in the Middle East during Operation Desert Storm as well as other duty stations in Europe and the United States. He was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal with Gold Star, Southeast Asia Serve Medal with Bronze Star, National Defense Service Medal, and the Kuwaiti Liberation Medal. Dr. Parks is an active member in CACRAO and AACRAO and currently serves on the Executive Committee for SACRAO.


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