Data Culture


Information is power for any student affairs operation, and often that information comes in the form of data collected through student surveys, participation records, and academic and cocurricular performance. The data can then be translated and applied to programs and services to boost student satisfaction and success rates.

The 2018 report Institutions’ Use of Data and Analytics for Student Success: Results From a National Landscape Analysis, developed in partnership by the Association for Institutional Research (AIR), NASPA, and EDUCAUSE, documents the growing use of data analytics among higher education institutions to improve student success.

One of the biggest challenges is aligning the resources and formalizing the roles, responsibilities, and relationships between institutional research (IR), information technology (IT), and student affairs professionals in the collection and use of success analytics. Based on the survey results from IR, IT, and student affairs leaders, including vice presidents for student affairs (VPSAs) at colleges and universities nationwide, it is clear that while institutions could do more to use data strategically across these siloed functions, institutions are well-positioned to make bolder moves in the years ahead.

Student Success Projects

Institutions are collecting large amounts of data from multiple sources, which provide opportunities for rich analyses to support students from all backgrounds. Institutions shared a range of data-driven student success projects:

  • More than half of surveyed institutions conducted studies related to recruiting, admissions, and enrollment (the student pipeline), students’ career pathways, or post-graduation outcomes.
  • Another third or more of institutions reported conducting annual studies of graduate student progress, faculty workload and performance, and the academic progress and success of undergraduate students.
  • The efficiency of degree completion appeared to be an emerging type of student success study, as 32 percent of respondents said their institutions planned to research the topic in the next year and 42 percent reported conducting related research.
  • There are considerably fewer institutions conducting studies on issues related to students’ ability to afford higher education or on how to complete their degrees efficiently.
Infrastructure Support

As functional units and departments conduct various analyses to support student success, it is important for VPSAs and other leaders to keep professionals across the institution informed of results and provide access to relevant data. The extent to which units systematically collect, integrate, and use their data varies. Student information system data (admissions, financial aid, academic course data) are the only student data systematically collected, integrated, and used to any meaningful extent. Only about 10 percent of institutions collected, integrated, and used student data from institutional business sources (housing, advancement, national surveys); a smaller percentage of institutions used data collected from student systems (customer relationship management system, learning management system) or other sources. Regardless of institutional size or sector, institutions identified a need to train professionals to ensure the accurate interpretation and effective implementation of results.

Programs, Interventions, and Outcomes

If conducted effectively, student success studies can help institutions identify students who are thriving academically and those who would benefit from additional programs, services, and other resources. These interventions are critical to helping students remain enrolled and persist to graduation.

More than 70 percent of respondents said that their institutions were using an early-alert system. Of those, nearly 74 percent of institutions use a "see something, say something" model, which allows anyone concerned about a student to alert the institution, through an anonymous online form, a monitored e-mail, or a phone number. Sixty-eight percent of institutions are using a data-informed model, which uses academic achievement and behavioral data to proactively identify students in need of additional support.

More than 90 percent of respondents said that their institutions intervene with academic advising and referrals to student services such as tutoring and counseling. Thirty-seven percent of institutions used "nudge" campaigns, which involve sending messages to students to spur certain actions. First-year students, underrepresented students, and nontraditional students are the priority populations for these interventions.

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