Most institutions collect data. However, few institutions use that data to understand trends or patterns that should be monitored and instead use data to establish annual enrollment strategy. Leaders may look at a particular data element and set a goal to change it, deciding, for instance, to set a goal of increasing the number of inquiries or applicants. Meanwhile, many campus leaders fail to consider aligning both internal and external data with trend data to determine the real issues the institution faces.
A data-informed institution, on the other hand, takes the all-important next step of analyzing its data and drawing a more informed awareness of its situation and environment. The institution uses that awareness to make decisions that align with its mission while allowing it to adapt intentionally to the future instead of simply reacting to it. A data-informed institution asks:
“Does our data allow us to understand our context and draw implications about how we will need to change in order to fulfill our mission and vision in the future? Does our current state align with the future needs, demands, and trends? If not, can our institution sustain itself?”
Such institutions are, in effect, developing a kind of data wisdom that provides an impetus to move forward. This data-informed strategy also drives the Strategic Enrollment Planning process that our campus partners use.
As challenging as this might seem, there is nothing magical about data. They are simply a resource that can be neglected, exploited, or understood. Frequently, a campus will have reams and reams of data with no one purposefully assessing it, considering its implications, or suggesting ways to change institutional behavior based on what it indicates. A campus must charge key personnel with taking the data and drawing conclusions from it, as illustrated in the following figure.