In the 1850’s, a British doctor named John Snow used rudimentary survey and mapping techniques to trace London’s cholera outbreak to a single well — saving lives and giving rise to the field of epidemiology. In the modern era, advances in data science and the application of technology have ushered a sea change in how public health experts think about the questions they are asking, as well as the data they use to answer those questions. In higher education, it is easy to feel like we are closer to Dr. Snow’s level of analysis than modern epidemiology. The problem in higher education, as in public health, revolves around both access to data and using it responsibly to seek clear answers to the right questions. As it turns out, some of the questions policymakers and higher education leaders are asking may not be the right questions at all — and may lead to suboptimal results. For example, by asking, “How do we enroll more students in higher education?” policymakers unintentionally incentivized enrollment but not completion, leading to more students with some debt and no degree. Mark Milliron has been taking on these challenges in higher education for decades. In 1995, he began his work in my home state of North Carolina, helping lead a rural community college in the Blue Ridge Mountains. From that small school, he launched a career that has spanned K-12 and higher education, including a front-row seat on healthcare’s data driven transformation during his tenure as Vice President of Education and Medical Practice at the SAS Institute — a global analytics firm based in North Carolina. Drawing upon his years of experience, Mark identifies important connections between epidemiology and higher education analytics — and both the risks, and opportunities for higher education to learn from public health. This includes moving beyond the backwards-looking or postmortem data so often used for accountability purposes and toward new data sources that provide rich, actionable insights that can be used to tailor support for each student. We know that providing students with support along their postsecondary journey is important, not only for individual students, but also for society as a whole. Epidemiology has a 150-year head start on higher education analytics, but we can’t afford to take that long to make the changes our students need. Luckily, by learning from the related changes in healthcare, we don’t have to. To learn more about harnessing opportunities around this type of work and embracing innovations like the Student Success Intelligence Platform, download the white paper.Content originally published in Making the Most of a Healthy Change in Education: The Emerging Student Success Intelligence Platform, a white paper by Dr. Mark David Milliron with Foreward by Former NC Governor Bev Perdue.
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