3 Barriers to Data Management in Higher Education Programs

Data is one of the most valuable assets any higher education program has today. Unfortunately, many schools are underutilizing this resource because their systems don’t play nice with each other, they’re not able to collect enough data to make it valuable, and they’re not sure how to ensure everything is secure.

Fortunately, these barriers are being knocked down as technology solutions improve. Read on to learn more about three of the most common barriers to data management and how programs are overcoming them.

Barrier 1: Using Data

If we don’t understand the data presented, we won’t use it. Fortunately, academics are known for loving data. But if data isn’t appropriately visualized, we forget it or don’t pay attention.

So, we need to simplify how to use data in learning environments. To do this, we need to do a few things.

  1. Ensure security and privacy – while sharing data is the way of the future, there have been too many instances of data hacks that have rightfully made us wary of sharing personal data. Schools need secure solutions that guarantee privacy while also leveraging the power that shared data produces.
  2. Connect to measurable outcomes – data systems must be built to shed light on whether desired learning outcomes are, or are not, met. This could look like pre-built reports that automatically update, interactive dashboards, and built-in assessment criteria, all of which funnel towards programmatic goals. If you can’t use your data to measure whether your programs are successful, you’re not using the right data, or your systems are ineffective.
  3. Easy integrations – in-app dashboards are great, but they’re not enough. You need to be able to export data from your systems, combine it with other data, and use it easily. 

Making data easier to use makes it easier to manipulate in new and valuable ways. Take it one step further by embracing visuals in shared reports so all stakeholders can easily see what the data is saying.

Barrier 2: Trustworthy Data

Making data-informed strategic decisions becomes impossible if we don’t trust the data inputs.

To be able to trust the data, we need a few things in place.

  1. Enough data – we need enough data to glean any sort of insight from it. If your alumni pool is 1 million but only ten people regularly respond to your survey, your results are skewed. While this is an extreme example, it’s a problem many programs face.
  2. Systems that talk with each other – Sometimes, it’s a lack of responsiveness that creates a shortage. Other times, the problem is disparate systems, like spreadsheets saved on desktops and notebooks that get buried under more paperwork. If you have the data you need, but it’s not working with other data sets, you’re missing out on valuable information.

Checks and balances – Algorithms are not people, but for good or bad, they’re still prone to error. But as humans rely on them more and more, we start to think that if a computer system says something is so, it must be true. We forget to peer behind the curtain and see whether the algorithm is a wizard or just a man. Programs must train people to find the gaps in their data, ask more questions, and use technologies like AI and machine learning as tools that complement, not replace, their expertise.

Barrier 3: Making Inputs Easy

Higher ed programs across the nation struggle to collect data about their students in real-time. Once those students become alumni, this becomes nearly impossible.

To collect better data on students and alumni, programs must shift how they think about students and treat them as customers. Many are already doing this but can take it even further. The result? Better data for schools and a better experience for students.

A Simplified Framework for Mapping a Student’s Experience Like Businesses Map Customer Experiences:

  1. First, start with what data you want to collect and the decisions you need to make. Let’s take gainful employment as an example. This data becomes your end goal, or the “X” on the treasure map.
  2. Then, identify the steps and inputs you need to put in place to collect that data piece. For gainful employment, one of the main hurdles is students achieve it after graduation. After graduation, most students stop using their school email addresses. Some will set up alumni addresses, but many will not. So one of the main hurdles is collecting personal email addresses. All the surveys will be for naught if the alumnus never opens it.
  3. Where there are gaps, brainstorm solutions to close them. In our gainful employment example, it could be an incentive for entering your email address, or it could be a campaign explaining the benefits of signing up for your alumni network. Employ multiple solutions when necessary.
  4. Identify key stakeholders and get them involved in solving your data challenges. Getting their buy-in at the start will help them take ownership of parts of the student journey they oversee. For example, admissions may want to start explaining the alumni network right away so that when graduation rolls around, students are already excited about joining.
  5. Finally, know that it’s an iterative process. The point is to understand what’s happening right now and where you want it to be. It may take a while to reach your goal but starting with small, quickly implementable steps will begin a snowball effect that will pay dividends down the road.

While our example of obtaining a student’s personal email is just one example of designing a system to make getting one input easier, it can be extrapolated to any data challenge. Perhaps you want to increase enrollment and need to identify new markets to target. Maybe you need to free up your budget and need to identify areas for improvement. No matter what the challenge, start with the goal in mind, identify inputs, stakeholders, and work on solving problems simply and continuously.

Solution: Program Management Software for Field Education and Accreditation

There is one solution that answers many of these common challenges programs face: program management software that simplifies internships and assessment in support of accreditation. For instance, Tevera makes field education as well as accreditation and assessment easier by storing all of a program’s related data securely and making it easy to use. 

Embracing new technology can eliminate redundancies, speed up inefficiencies, and create more value for all stakeholders by making the data more easily accessible.

Data management is crucial to the future success of any higher ed program. However, it’s an enormous challenge, especially if you’ve been using outdated technologies up until now. Fortunately, software developers are making new technologies easier and easier to use, making the onboarding process a smooth and painless experience.

It’s also crucial to choose a software that speaks your program’s language. If the tool doesn’t speak the language of the helping professions, like counselor education and social work, you run the risk of doing double work to decode the data that comes out of the system. Using a system that is aligned to the specifics of your industry will save you time and add value to your data.

Take a look at Tevera

If you’d like to learn more about how Tevera helps programs manage their data, check out why Roberts Wesleyan chose us to manage their field education data.

Want to talk to someone in person? Book a demo and experience Tevera for yourself.