4 things to consider when balancing academic, financial needs

Data-driven collaboration across the institution can drive constructive and actionable outcomes. The top priority should be a partnership between key stakeholders across campus with the goal of transparency.

Now more than ever, today’s college and university Presidents, CFOs, Provosts and other institutional leaders are tasked with not only finding balance between meeting the academic needs of

Ryan Schnabel is a data analytics consultant with Anthology.

faculty and students but also managing the financial constraints of administration. One key to successfully navigating these challenges is using the vast array of available data on campus to inform decisions and strategy, but just as important is the involvement of academic departments and functional operational areas in the review and application of that data.

Institutions should explore four key considerations when looking to foster cross-campus discussions on resource allocation across the institution in order to drive constructive and actionable outcomes: prioritizing which data to share; personalizing engagement; optimally framing data; and creating effective cross-departmental data communication.

How much is too much?

In many cases, too much data and information is being shared with individuals or groups across the institution tasked with helping to inform strategic decisions – inevitably causing them to feel overwhelmed. While all available data should be assessed, institutions should strategically limit data sharing to the most helpful information. Why? Continuing to search for new data or new iterations of the data often causes paralysis and prevents decisions from being made, delays action items from being created, and prevents progress from ever being started. It’s also important that data is shared in a visually understandable way so that all participants feel empowered to contribute to conversations. The goal here is to help all stakeholders become comfortable consumers of the data rather than requesting additional data for the sake of having more data.

2) Make it personally beneficial

Looking at data itself can be intimidating to many on campus, but taking that a step further by asking them to understand and make decisions informed by the data is even more daunting. Individuals on campus responsible for sharing data should consider the audience who will be receiving the data, what will matter most to them, and how it will impact them and their department. For example, faculty members likely don’t want to sift through pages and pages of data that doesn’t apply to the outcomes and issues surrounding their students’ and departments’ goals. This scenario can become a burden, often causing future attempts to use data to inform decision making to be met with increased resistance. Just providing the data doesn’t create motivation to want to make changes. The information provided should be related to specific metrics that the recipient can control and presented in a way that allows them to also see the benefits of making changes.

3) Avoid alienation by framing data context:

Framing the presentation of the data in a positive or negative way can change the outcome of how institutional stakeholders feel about the information received. There should be a balance of data showing opportunities to improve in the long term and areas where immediate action should be taken to address potentially urgent issues. Positive metrics and successes from across the institution should be used as examples of where higher levels of achievement have been attained. Only providing negative information may be seen as a threat, triggering feelings of doubt and defensiveness that may lead to individuals questioning the validity and purpose of the data. On the other hand, providing only positive data may lead to a false sense of security and the perception that everything is going well, creating a lack of urgency to make changes. A balanced approach is key.

4) Sharing goes both ways

Providing meaningful data and insights is not just a one-way street. For example, a university’s CFO who chooses to provide financial data and then follows up with questions to gain further insight from stakeholders is investing in creating healthy dialogue and relationships across the institution. In that same sense, if faculty members are willing to be open to viewing performance data about their programs, providing an academic perspective and sharing their experience, this can help inform the CFO on priority program requirements, effective approaches to course scheduling, how these items tie into the institution’s mission and goals and which faculty requirement considerations are most likely not obvious within the data. For instance, a CFO reviewing revenue and expenses of particular programs might easily be able to identify lower-margin programs or courses, but without the additional information and context that the provost or faculty can provide regarding program requirements and importance of a course or section in student progression, the CFO lacks the full information needed to make sound decisions. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence and challenge among many colleges and universities, but it can be improved!

The value that data offers in driving positive outcomes and creating long-term strategies for successful colleges and universities cannot be understated. However, it is only as good as how effectively the data is shared across key stakeholders on campus, the involvement of those individuals who are consumers of the data, and the relationships that are established to exchange information openly and across what are commonly known as campus departmental silos. It is not enough just to be able to have access to the data or provide the right data. Instead, institutions must provide useful and meaningful data as a starting point for determining which decisions to make and where to make them.  The top priority should be a partnership between key stakeholders across campus with the goal of transparently and collaboratively moving the institution forward.

Ryan Schnabel is a Data Analytics Consultant at Anthology, a leading provider of proven higher education solutions that support the entire learner lifecycle. With nearly two decades of experience helping higher education institutions improve operations and student outcomes, Schabel’s guidance and data expertise help empower today’s college and university leaders to execute campus-wide strategic initiatives and drive student success.

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