I recently traded in my dream car for something far more reliable. The dream car had been a reward to myself for paying off my student loans, but three years of driving it post-warranty were filled with frequent and costly breakdowns, leaving me stranded in spectacular fashion on a regular basis. In retrospect, I admit that I purchased my dream car based on a fantasy, willfully ignoring readily available consumer data about its “total cost of ownership.” Unfortunately, the lesson resulted in a great deal of time and money completely wasted – valuable limited resources I could have otherwise put to very good use.
Total cost of ownership considerations extends to our professional work and decisions, as well. In our pursuit of student success, we have an obligation to make the most of our resources and investments. We all are navigating a landscape of limited or finite resources. Yet, how often do we underestimate or not critically evaluate the “total cost of ownership”? We may buy software and expect it to make a difference without fully considering the people needed to support it or the changes it both enables and necessitates in our way of doing things. We’re well-intended in our action, but we pile on initiative after initiative and apply best practices, hoping to support our students to completion.
But to what extent do we ensure that our investments will make a measurable difference?
- Are our initiatives based on solid intelligence about risk in our unique student populations?
- How often do we measure the effectiveness of those interventions so that we can know how and where to improve, or where to redirect those resources?
- Are we setting ourselves up for scalable success with human and financial costs that we can sustain long-term?
In order for institutions to succeed with an affordable cost of ownership and true return on investment, it’s imperative to ask these questions. The answers might make us anxious, feeling like we need even more resources to do this work. It takes work (and courage!) to channel that energy. But when the analysis is done, we can operate with confidence and clarity. We can work smarter with the right data.
In my recent years at the University of Arizona
, we knew that our limited resource environment in the aftermath of severe budget cuts meant that we could not afford the status quo. Previous go-nowhere efforts cost us too much not only financially, but also in precious cultural and political capital. Changing course, we implemented predictive analytics for more precision to answer those critical questions, inform our initiatives, and begin to move beyond the application of best practices.
Support for this work came from the sponsorship of three senior leaders pooling their resources together to fund it in a sustainable way. The clarity of vision and priorities from these leaders provided shelter during the transition, as we learned to work differently with our data. We had new insight into the factors driving student success and were able to target our efforts more effectively. Our team fleshed out and expanded upon the signals from the data to help shape our understanding of student success opportunities and priorities.
Institutional research fleshed out and expanded upon the signals from predictive analytics to help shape our understanding of opportunities and priorities. We organized differently
to make sure leadership, tactical teams, and data teams were aligned and coordinated. Data summits served as level-setting opportunities for everyone to build more facility with data and participate in problem-solving. Throughout, we measured the impact that our initiatives were having on retention and focused on getting more students engaged with those that worked. Initiatives that didn’t work were adjusted, reimagined, or retired.
At the University of Arizona, our success was holding a retention rate steady during the years where fiscal challenges beyond our control would normally have resulted in significant losses. It’s not a titillating soundbite, but it was material. As our efforts matured and some resources were eventually restored, we saw student retention rates soar to an all-time high of 83.3%.
By managing the changes necessary to support data-informed student success, we were increasingly versed in and responsible about the cost of ownership.
Learn more about how institutions today are navigating these changes and limited resources during the second webinar in our change management series
. Joining us will be Mitchell Colver from Utah State University
, who will share his perspective on the phenomenal change management work they’ve done in the past year, setting up a rigorous system of intervention measurement, building a culture of curiosity and evidence, and empowering advisors to effect action. Together, we will be addressing five themes that shed light on the true cost of, and return on our student success efforts:
- The danger of hidden and unknown expenses
- Alignment of vision and purpose
- No more “spray and pray”: deploying targeted and personalized student support
- Measurement for a continuous improvement cycle
- Scalability and sustainability
We look forward to this conversation with you about managing the tides of change.
Related Read: Tides of Change in Higher Education →