The Emergence of Higher Education Analytics

Higher education is facing enormous challenges. Diminishing financial support, heightened public accountability, prolonged economic recession, and numerous other issues confront our institutions. Competition is fierce, and the need for operational efficiency and institutional effectiveness is greater than ever. Universities are facing mounting pressure to demonstrate value and to contain costs. All of this points to the need for sound decision-making regarding operational management and strategic planning. But an old adage from business states, “You can’t manage what you can’t see.”

A vital prerequisite to sound decision-making is information concerning measures of organizational health and performance. This is a significant problem because the availability of that information has traditionally not been a hallmark of higher education. In reality, the volume of data available to institutions has never been greater — but data is not information. The primary administrative systems driving our institutions are ironically called enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, but ERP systems are merely massive collections of raw transactional data. Such data must be mined and transformed into analytics — information that is informative, meaningful, and actionable.

Effective Analytics
A basic feature of effective analytics is that on-demand information is placed directly in the hands of decision-makers. Other important characteristics include being Web-based, customizable for individuals or functions, capable of drawing from multiple data sources, highly intuitive and user friendly, and displayed through graphic displays and dashboards.

Commercial analytics solutions evolved in business, but are now finding their way into higher education. A number of companies market their prowess in providing institutions with analytics through services, systems, or both. However, a caution is in order. The term “analytics” has much more of a voluminous connotation rather than a clear definition, and institutions should exercise great care in choosing partners and products that can meet their needs as well as find a good fit within their internal environments. A survey of marketing information from the growing number of vendors in the area of higher education analytics includes the following.

Some Available Options
ASR Analytics provides consulting services to clients in recruitment, retention, accountability, and other areas through data drawn from leading ERP systems. Their services to clients include business intelligence, data visualization, and predictive modeling.

iDashboards is marketed as a user-friendly and cost-effective dashboard software in areas including student success, workforce development, transfer preparation, research, and finance. Advertised benefits include low cost of ownership and real-time access to data.

Entrinsik specializes in database solutions that enable organizations to achieve results by tracking, understanding, and managing information. Entrinsik’s Informer Web Reporting software is marketed as an intuitive way of accessing real-time data from multiple databases to provide a single point of analysis and reporting.

CampusVue Performance Analytics from Campus Management Corporation extracts data from CampusVue and other administrative applications. Their solution targets a 360° view of the institution and features dashboards and pre-defined executive reports.

Microsoft has an active partnership of analytics providers. While Microsoft’s own Platform for Institutional Effectiveness (MPIE) may seem nebulous and confusing, partners including eThority and iStrategy offer effective solutions using Microsoft tools and systems.

eThority provides analytics solutions and emphasizes the benefit of helping clients establish an authoritative source of information. Their Enterprise Edition has been recognized for providing dashboards and drop-down reporting tools that are easy to use.

iStrategy Solutions is another Microsoft partner that features a series of “pre-built” analytic applications for leading ERP systems. Their HigherEd Analytics Suite is a robust, user-driven self-service reporting and dashboard system.

In contrast to the “pre-built” solutions offered by some vendors are offerings by companies including IBM and SunGard. IBM Business Analytics, including Cognos and SPSS, is a comprehensive and very powerful set of tools that can be leveraged by institutions to understand performance and make better decisions.

SunGard’s Banner Performance Reporting and Analytics system is marketed as a comprehensive reporting, analytics, and performance management solution. Components include the Operational Data Store and Enterprise Data Warehouse, which are designed for integration with IBM Cognos.

The solutions from IBM and SunGard are powerful and highly regarded tools, but I would counsel institutions to balance this power with software customization or development efforts that could be required to produce results that may not be part of the delivered solution.

Ad Astra Schedule is well known as a leader in course scheduling software. Their recently launched Platinum Analytics system provides student and course-specific historical trends and probabilities to optimize planning through an intuitive and interactive system.

Google Analytics is an enterprise-class Web analytics solution that is widely used by institutions to gain insights into Website traffic and marketing effectiveness. The tools are powerful and easy to use, and they’re free. Web analytics, including the tools from Google, relate directly to the intense area of institutional competitiveness and to the measurable effectiveness of Web and e-marketing strategies.

Institutions that select and use analytics capabilities wisely will realize substantial benefits in sound decision-making necessary to confront the challenges ahead.

About the Author

David W. Dodd is vice president of Information Technology and CIO at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. He can be reached at 201/216-5491 or [email protected]