Leveraging data angles to identify pathways to student success

Unifying student data from disconnected systems can give administrators a clearer picture of how to help students attain their education goals.
By: | March 1, 2021

When we think about a college student’s journey throughout their time at an institution, people often center on the student’s academic experience and progression toward their degree completion.

JD White is the chief product officer at Anthology.

J.D. White is the chief product officer at Anthology.

While important, this is only one of the multidimensional pathways that students navigate during their college years. For example, what drove a particular student to enroll in the institution? Which campus activities are they participating in aside from their degree program? And is there a wider net of possible career opportunities based on a student’s whole background? Especially now, with the need to be able to serve students on campus and remotely, savvy Institutions have realized that they must transform their approach to become student-centric – designing all experiences with individual student success in mind.

Putting existing student data to use

To paint a clearer picture of each student, institutions need to identify critical details about each student that are stored in different systems and then connect them in context to continuously inform engagement and success strategies. These student details are captured in a variety of ways but are seldom shared outside of their intended purpose. For example, various types of student data can be found in multiple systems across campus regarding recruitment, enrollment, financial aid, advising, coursework tracking toward degree achievement, co-curricular activities, career services, and alumni relations. These systems can actually create a comprehensive data stream that provides more complete, valuable information and new connections about students – helping institutions shift from a function-based approach to become more learner-centric.

While the next thought may be to uniformly combine all the data from these systems, this is actually counterintuitive and can lead to misleading conclusions. Why? The real value in bringing the data together lies in the ability to maintain the context and complexity of each data’s origin and use it to get to know the student from different angles.

Helping identify relevant pathways

With this new type of approach, each data stream can continue to function as intended in an institution’s technology landscape while offering new insights and resources that can be applied together across students’ career, skills, learning and degree pathways. It’s a different way of harnessing data that already exists within institutions – assessment data around learning outcomes is already present in workflows, but utilizing the data to help inform a student’s journey along their respective pathways is novel.

As each student’s journey throughout their respective institution is different, they often need assistance in understanding their collective options around each pathway and which experiences may be available to help guide them toward their future educational and career goals. After all, a student’s higher education experience involves much more than pursuing a degree – they are looking to develop the skills and experience necessary to become life and career-ready.

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With the ability to link up all relevant pieces of student data across campus, institutions can empower their students to author their own journeys with more personalized options that will help lead them toward their ultimate goals. This approach is relevant for both four-year institutions and community colleges, enabling individual departments and institutions as a whole do more with less by automating and scaling student support practices and career preparation through transparent knowledge sharing. And for community colleges with a more diverse and varied student population, these institutions can benefit from aligning campus-wide student data with Guided Pathways programs to connect more deeply with students along their individual journeys.

Taking pathways to the operational level

This concept of connected student data not only drives improved student outcomes but benefits their respective institutions as well. By examining the breadth of data points in aggregate, college and universities can identify key patterns and trends about their students and how they actually engage with the institution. They can then make these insights actionable by optimizing various aspects of each student journey in a more targeted and scalable way. For example, a college looking to grow its nursing program could synthesize all multidimensional data available on its previous and current nursing students to help identify patterns in the types of prospective students most likely to be successful at their college, as well as the most useful coursework and career skills supporting their current students at various phases of their college experience. They can then use this to invest in targeted recruitment and retention programs as well as improve and expand the existing nursing program.

Institutions can also use existing data to empower other departments to perform better. For instance, course evaluation data’s main function is often for accreditation purposes and to measure student course experiences, but it can also be valuable to specific advisors when they are looking to customize a student’s coursework based on individual needs and their learning styles. The key is mining, synthesizing and presenting it in innovative ways to achieve this type of collaboration. Advanced technologies such as AI and machine learning can help create and inform practices to achieve this outcome. Ultimately, having the ability to link this existing information meaningfully can help institutions create more synergies and previously undiscovered linkages across campus.

Overall, campuses have a lot to gain by unifying their student data strategically in order to glean critical insights about their students and operations alike. By gathering all the relevant, disparate pieces of student experience data across various departments, institutions will have a much better understanding of each student’s possible pathways toward achieving success and be able to uncover new pathways to achieving institutional excellence.

J.D. White recognizes the powerful role creativity and innovation plays when it comes to solving the complex challenges college and university communities face today. He strives to deliver solutions that bring new growth opportunities to higher education, while building products that help students and administration succeed. He is the chief product officer at Anthology, formed from the merger of Campus Management, Campus Labs, and iModules.