By Peter Maglione, CEO, Academic Analytics

I recently had the good fortune to participate in the 2019 Higher Education Leadership Summit at Yale University. This intimate and interactive event brought together about 75 academic leaders including many college and university presidents, provosts, trustees, and researchers who study higher education trends. The event’s theme was Commerce and College: The Business of Higher Education.

Participants discussed challenges faced by higher education, talked about the importance of collaborative partnerships, and shared experiences and lessons learned as institutional leaders.

As the CEO of Academic Analytics, I was particularly interested in the many conversations referencing data and analytics. Three conversations stand out:

I. Data are often underutilized in academic decision making. One prominent researcher described in detail the financial health of 2,300 higher education institutions. This in-depth analysis and comparative data showed institutional performance compared to one another.

However, although these data are available to institutions and academic leaders, few currently use such metrics to better understand their own situation compared to their peers. Several Summit participants expressed disbelief that institutions and academic leaders wouldn’t take full advantage of all credible data sources to better define the landscape and to craft strategic plans accordingly.

While this particular conversation focused on data regarding institutional financial performance, the larger point was about academic leaders using valuable data to help them make better, more informed decisions in general. Failing to use data equates to making decisions without the best possible information and represents a missed opportunity to advance an institution towards its goals.

II. Other stakeholders also crave data. A trustee from an Ivy League institution shared his perspective, relating to the audience that trustees are often asked to make important decisions, but at times aren’t provided with adequate data about an institution’s performance (alone or in the context of its peers). He specifically focused on student outcomes data to show the value of a college education and to counter those who question the value of higher education. Beyond this specific example, his general point was well-received: trustees and other stakeholders want more data.

III. Interest in greater use of business tools in academia. A real-time poll among Summit attendees showed that the majority of academic leaders are receptive to increased use of business tools including more data-driven analytical tools. Leading an academic institution and leading a business are certainly different activities; however, academic leaders likewise understand the importance of using tools to more effectively and efficiently manage their organizations.

These observations highlighted a broad general theme of the Summit: trustees, academic leaders, and other higher education stakeholders increasingly want and expect to have data and analytics to assist in decision making across the university. While no one will rely solely on analytics in making decisions (nor should they), failing to use data and analytics puts their institution at a disadvantage.

This is consistent with our view at Academic Analytics. Data and analytics help inform decision making. Rendering decisions without accurate, robust, and topical data is the same as flying blind, relying on intuition, “gut feel,” and unreproducible methods. Reliable data help academic leaders make better, faster, more informed decisions. We expect that as the demands on institutions and academic leaders increase and as data become more widely available and increasingly robust, the use of analytical tools to support decision making will continue to grow.