When it comes to data analytics, there is a lot to be learned from what higher education institutions are doing with this technology. Schools are facing constant financial and competitive pressure — not unlike most businesses. They need to retain their customers, the students. This can be difficult because of competition from online educational options and other colleges. They also have immense facilities and on-campus resources that need to be managed cost-effectively.

With all of these pressures, higher education institutions need to be able to quickly rethink how they operate. Many schools are turning to data analytics to gain insights into different areas of campus life, addressing problems that are surfaced or driving innovations where opportunities reveal themselves. Taking a look at what colleges are doing with data analytics offers some insights for businesses facing similar issues.

READ MORE: Head to the UniversITy blog to catch up on the latest posts from CDW•G’s higher education experts.

Customer-Focused Data Impacts Student Experience and Success

Managing student performance is a common application of analytics. Schools are successful when their students are enrolled and graduating in a timely manner. To help keep students on the path to graduation, data analytics is being used to find ways to tweak instructional design, program effectiveness, faculty assessment — really, any academic intersection between student and school that can have an impact on student performance.

Closely linked to student performance is student retention. Schools are gleaning data-driven insights along the whole spectrum of a student’s journey, from initial recruitment to graduation and beyond. Some schools are analyzing potential student social media posts to assess enrollment interest. Others are building workflows to do outreach to students who miss classes, reducing the potential of them falling behind or even dropping out. Taking data-supported actions that improve the student experience can go a long way toward supporting student retention efforts.

A Data-Driven Strategy Improves Donor Management

Great effort is being expended to use data analytics to assist in donor management. These efforts can encompass tracking who is donating, how much is being donated, the best method of outreach. I even worked with a college on a donor management project involving social media activity, which morphed into an opportunity to identify potential new donors based on their online comments about the school. All these efforts help the schools prioritize resources and budget to deliver the maximum donation while allocating the minimum resources and time needed.

The Role of Analytics in Facilities Management

Universities can have a large physical footprint. With the increased growth in online learning options, the management and optimization of these physical resources has become increasingly important for more traditional schools to better compete with their online rivals. Using data analytics, schools have improved their facilities management numerous ways including determining how to streamline the use of classrooms and lectures, building out benchmarks for energy consumption and waste, and developing planned maintenance budgets.

Understand Your Analytics Outcome

If you’re just getting started with data analytics, one piece of advice I always offer my clients is to think through and map out the desired outcome. Know what you want to achieve before you start diving into the data. I’ve had some long conversations with customers about what’s out there and what’s happening at other schools. They often want to start analytics programs because of FOMO — the fear of missing out. In other words, the client hears about some insight that a neighboring college has applied to improve their operations and now wants to do the same.

Instead, I tell them that each situation, and the data available for analysis, is unique. Different schools have different data streams available. Start with your desired outcome, determine what data you have access to and what you may still need to capture to be able to reach your outcome. And from there you can start analyzing to see what insights are available to you and your unique situation.

Read CDW’s case study on how data analytics is being used by Oregon State University to optimize the performance of players within its athletics program.

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