Change can be scary. It takes courage, and sometimes new, and awkward collaboration. Oftentimes it’s easier to maintain status quo, even if it means missing out on great opportunities due to the change. Status quo is not good enough for the University of Arizona, which recently underwent a change that is already helping them better leverage data and analytics to drive student success at the institution. The change, however, did not happen overnight and requires ongoing hard work and open mindedness.
Creating the UAIR Office
To continue to grow their analytics capabilities—and to best serve a growing student body—The University of Arizona has taken on the consuming task of merging their Business Intelligence and Institutional Research offices into the University Analytics and Institutional Research (UAIR) Office. Dr. Angela Baldasare, Assistant Provost for Institutional Research; Hank Childers, Executive Director of UAIR; and Michele Norin, VP for Information Technology and CIO share insights from this important transition.
Changing the Way Data is Consumed, Analyzed and Leveraged
“Our goal is to raise the bar and elevate our thinking about how we consume, analyze and leverage data to understand the success of our programs, “ said Norin. “It’s been an exciting yet challenging opportunity for our community to think differently given the capabilities of our new environment.”
The team all speak to the value of moving from transactional reporting to integrating predictive analytics and institutional research into the data. “Leveraging analytics differently means thinking beyond the existing approach of generating reports—frankly, it’s not really about reports anymore—to having data that is dynamic and tells US things, rather than us exclusively asking the questions,” said Norin.
Bringing More Data to More People, Faster
The events and reasons leading to merger included a need to address compliance and refresh issues with existing systems; an opportunity to build upon the University of Arizona’s existing work in predictive analytics; and an overriding desire to make more information available to more people—faster and better—so they could make better decisions around student success.
“It came out of a sense that people around campus were having a hard time figuring out where to get data in time to answer key questions and make decisions,” said Dr. Baldasare. “We wanted to increase the speed and availability of all kinds of information, from transactional to managerial and strategic reporting, as well as the insights and data coming from our implementation of Illume®. “
Illume is a powerful application helping Administration & Institutional Research identify key institution-specific insights that inform decisions on policy and planning in real-time, resulting in increased student persistence. Illume is the core application on the Civitas Platform, which securely aggregates and analyzes disparate data acquired from partner institutions.
From Transactional Reporting to Strategic Reporting
“The BI group had been doing operational reporting with about 30,000 queries a day in the data warehouse department, with thousands of users,” said Hank Childers, “But there was a need and desire to do more strategic reporting beyond transactional reporting.“ BI had been providing reports such as time sheets and budgets, while the goal has been to move strongly into management and strategic reporting that could answer questions about what could be done to improve outcomes.
Meanwhile, the Institutional Research arm had already invested considerable time and resources in analytics for student success projects, including an Academic Index developed by Dr. Guillermo Uribe, Assistant Director of Institutional Research. In parallel, several units of the university worked together toward student success with the Degree Tracker project (branded internally as ‘Smart Planner’) providing students access to a system where they could provide constraints and scenarios, and see their time to graduation.
Getting Actionable Data to Decision Makers
What the IR and BI staff found prior to the merger, though, was a disconnect between the two departments. “Many people on campus were trying to rely on BI for all of their data needs, but other important data such as student census files were only available through IR. So, as an early step in integrating data, IR moved student census files into the BI System. While this was a step in the right direction, there was wide acknowledgement that more needed to be done in order to provide accessible, timely, and actionable data to decision makers,” said Baldasare.
“The process of merging is not complete,” cautioned Baldasare of the work in progress. The two departments continue to better understand the others’ work and the differences in how they’ve each approached data in the past. They are exploring overlap and gaps to get the “lay of the land” while still addressing and delivering on urgent data requests.
“The conversations have shifted to talking about how to operationalize the merger,” said Baldsare. “How do we integrate the various content areas of our data systems like student, financials, research, employee, faculty, and student affairs? We’re doing a lot of work looking at the best way to integrate the systems and the people who work with them.”
Amid the challenges are some immediate wins, including collaborative teams reporting a holistic view on a given initiative while sharing strategy and insights. “You need full information to make the best decisions.” said Baldasare.
Empowered Integrated Teams
“We have had an integrated team with Illume™, and that has been very useful in opening conversations and helping people dive deeper into the data,” said Baldasare. She recently presented the data from Illume at a Board of Regents meeting and has found staff and leadership at UA eager to join in the work as they learn more about it.
“Our goal in all of this is to empower the users to feel confident about interacting with data in different ways,” said Norin. “That means creating a structure for UAIR that doesn’t just fall to one unit to create all reports, but to empower teams across campus to look at the data together within their context and environment.”
All of this will help position the University to meet its future goals to make full use of the universe of data available, explains Childers. “In terms of what’s next we’ve got a rich set of data in our Learning Management Systems, and our Think Tank. Other opportunities exist to look at student behavior beyond the LMS so we can build programs that help them, as individuals, succeed.” Childers anticipates a broad spectrum of faculty, staff and administrators working together with the data to improve student success.
The Work is Worth the Effort
“It’s hard work, and we’re not done,” said Baldsare. “It’s challenging. I would advise anyone considering a merger like this to open their mind, fasten their seat belt and be ready for disruption. It’s absolutely worth the effort—succeeding makes things better for everyone.”