Even before COVID-19 became a key part of our vocabulary this spring, data-informed decision-making has been a trending topic of conversation among college and university leaders.

Last fall, AIR, EDUCAUSE and NACUBO issued a joint statement encouraging institutions to commit to the use of analytics to make better strategic decisions. The events of the past few months have put a fine point on the important role data and analytics play in empowering campus leaders as they chart their best path forward.

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However, important as it is, advancing an institutional analytics program is not easy and it can help to hear from those whose journey is already underway.

I recently asked Barb Chalfonte, Ph.D., Executive Director of Strategic Analytics, University Analytics & Institutional Research (UAIR) at University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMA), to share insights from UMA’s experience undertaking this hard work.

Darren Catalano: What was the catalyst for prioritizing and building an analytics capability on campus?

Chalfonte: As an IR office, we had a lot of data for and about the University but it wasn’t in the most usable formats for people — it was data but not information. The data were presented in tables within PDF and excel files, relatively hard for users to manipulate and understand the data and there were no visualizations. While we were able to do our own internal analyses and create custom reports, there was no vehicle to distribute the data broadly and access to the raw data was not (and still isn’t) practical for all users. In addition to these practical and strategic reasons to develop our analytics capability, an overarching principle in the university’s strategic plan aspires to, “Instill a culture of evidence at all levels that applies the best possible information and analysis to decisions.”

About the Author:

Darren Catalano is the former vice president of analytics at the University of Maryland Global Campus. He currently serves as CEO of HelioCampus, a data analytics company born out of the University of Maryland system that helps colleges and universities use data analysis, data storytelling and data science to inform decision-making across all areas of campus.


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