By Robert Berdahl, former president of AAU, former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, former president of the University of Texas at Austin
At the recent APLU conference, I heard many important and familiar themes. These included concerns over public perceptions of higher education, worries related to the funding challenges universities face, and the resilience of universities amid these challenges.
But one theme was different and came up repeatedly in conversations with presidents and provosts: the emergence of a different attitude around using academic intelligence data. In the past there have been questions about the validity or accuracy of such data, along with concerns about pushback from faculty members. Yet at this year’s APLU there was a growing sense of comfort in introducing and using Academic Analytics on campus. The concerns of the past largely seem to have disappeared.
Based on what I heard from academic leaders, this change in attitude is a consequence of:
1. More general receptivity to the notion of data.
Increasingly, academic leaders are more open and receptive to using data, especially when making critical decisions and investments. They see the need for robust data as an important and necessary part of their decision-making process.
2. Recognition that data are just part of any decision.
Academic leaders are increasingly comfortable with data and want access to objective evidence when making decisions. At the same time, they recognize that data is only one piece of any assessment, and it is certainly not the sole basis for any assessment or decision.
3. Greater familiarity with Academic Analytics data.
In addition to becoming comfortable with data in general, as administrators have become more knowledgeable with the basis of the data used by Academic Analytics – including the validity and accuracy of this data – they have become more comfortable using it.
4. Increased acceptance and use by faculty members.
Perhaps most significant is a change in attitude among faculty members. The change is due in part to the new tools in the Academic Analytics Discovery Suite. These tools enable administration to identify faculty members who are eligible for awards, to find faculty member collaborators, and to engage with faculty directly in retention discussions. In addition, both faculty members and administrators are able to use Discovery Suite tools to identify potential grants or outside funding opportunities that they may not have been aware of. As faculty members become more familiar with the tools and capabilities in Discovery Suite, there are fewer faculty reservations around Academic Analytics and more faculty members now see value in data and analytics.
Also, some APLU attendees mentioned the increased value associated with data acquired over a longer time period. This provides the ability to compare the research outputs of programs and departments today to where they were five years ago. This capability didn’t exist previously, but is now possible. This aspect of Academic Analytics is likely to become even more important over time as the longitudinal reporting capabilities increase.
Overall, at APLU I heard about longstanding concerns confronting higher education. But I heard a new attitude taking hold among administrators and faculty members around using data generally, and specifically around using Academic Analytics’ new tools.