Why Data Analytics Matter for Higher Education
Higher education has never been more important. Nowadays, you need a college degree to get the job you want, and it’s necessary for advancement in many careers. So understanding how to increase student retention rates can actually have huge impacts on society as a whole. When done well, analytics can help higher education institutions save time and money by increasing efficiency, but can also help them understand where they are succeeding and where they are failing to engage their student body.
Most universities have analytics in place for things like tracking demographics, financial information, athletic performance, research output, major achievements by students and alumni, etc. These data sets are often used to inform marketing campaigns or admissions programs. However, educational institutions need to be able to use this data for more than just knowing what their reputation is within the greater community or seeing which university provides graduates with the highest earning potential. Colleges should be using that data to prepare students for success after graduation. This means understanding how different majors engage different populations of students who have differing levels of academic preparedness so that you can best support your students before, during, and after they graduate.
The biggest insight that data analytics provides is the ability to map out students’ journeys through their time in school. To be an effective higher education institution you need to track what happens not just at orientation but all the way through graduation. That means understanding student retention rates, which majors lead to high levels of engagement and success for your students, how many students are successfully advancing towards a degree every term or semester, attrition rates by major or program so you can provide targeted support systems to certain groups of students who may have more trouble graduating, etc. These insights allow you to address problems with retention early on so that students can continue without being lost along the way.
Read below 7 of the most important things analytics can tell you about your college or university, and how to increase student outcomes, engagement, and retention.
1. Where Are Students Falling Off the Wagon?
Retention is one of the core functions of higher education institutions, so being able to accurately track who stays and who leaves is essential. For a school, every student that isn’t retained has a direct cost associated with them. At 4-year universities retention typically falls between 50% to 60%. By knowing where students are dropping out you can begin building programs for those populations or majors that tend to be more at risk for attrition. You can also use these insights to create better academic advising systems by understanding which groups of students need more assistance along the way towards their degree.
2. How Do Different Majors Engage With Students?
It’s well known that certain majors (such as computer science and engineering) tend to provide higher rates of employment after graduation, but do these majors also lead to more engaged students? Some students may simply be focused on the end goal (a job) without worrying too much about what happens in between. By understanding whether or not different courses of study engage students you can assess their impact on student retention and engagement. Are certain courses making students drop out at a higher rate than others? Which majors have lower attrition rates during summer break? Are there some specific groups of students who struggle with some disciplines more so than others?
3. How Can We Improve Course Retention & Completion Rates?
Every year thousands of classes are added, changed, or dropped from university catalogs across the country. But what effect does this have on student outcomes? What programs are being added or dropped? By looking at course addition and drop rates from year to year you can assess how students and professors engage with new programs (and whether they’re sticking around). This also allows the institution to test the effectiveness of changes to current course curricula, and then make further adjustments as needed.
4. Which Courses Do Students Struggle With Most & Least?
Once again it comes back to understanding student engagement. If certain courses tend to drive away students more than others, why not look into adjusting those courses so that they better support your student body? You may want to consider re-emphasizing key concepts within certain subjects or adjusting the way grades are assigned. If certain groups of students are dropping out in high numbers but other disciplines don’t have the same problem, you can start looking into what causes these differences in student performance.
5. Which Groups Of Students Are At The Highest Risk For Dropping Out?
Certain schools may have higher or lower dropout rates than others, and it’s important that institutions are able to identify when students are not sticking around for their full term. By knowing which groups of students are more likely to drop out early on you can provide them with the support systems they need to complete their degree without unnecessary financial challenges or delays. You can also use this data when making changes to current course curriculums so that specific courses within that degree do not become too challenging for students at any given time.
6. How Is The Financial Aid Process Impacting Students & Institutions?
It’s not uncommon for students to struggle with the challenges associated with financial aid, including applying, receiving, and simply understanding it. By tracking the impact of financial aid on student outcomes you can start looking for ways to make this process easier through changes in technology or communication strategies. You can also look into whether or not financial assistance is actually playing a role in student retention by identifying which students are most at risk without it. If certain groups of students have higher dropout rates during significant financial aid disbursement periods (such as summertime) then you may want to rethink your reimbursement schedules because they could be causing too much added stress for already busy students.
7. What Are The Financial Costs Of Improving Student Outcomes?
One of the best ways to start to understand the true costs associated with improving student outcomes is by simply tracking how retention and engagement rates change as you implement changes that seek to improve them. If implementation of certain programs or initiatives actually causes an increase in retention, then you should expect to see a corresponding decrease in operating costs because more students are completing their degrees on time (and so they require fewer resources). This could be anything from housing costs, faculty expenses, or even food service reductions. By knowing which specific areas are ripe for optimization through improved data analytics strategies, colleges and universities can better ensure success among their current student body while also increasing access for future learners who will benefit from the changes.
Higher education is complex, with a lot of moving parts that need to be coordinated. There are many ways data analytics can help higher institutions make improvements and better serve both students and the school. This article has introduced you to some of these important principles for how to use data in order to provide more effective programs, lower costs, increase student retention rates, and improve engagement among your current population of learners. If you’re looking at implementing any changes but want guidance on what will work best or if you just want someone who understands this stuff already on hand as an advisor – drop us a line! We’ll partner with you so that we can start making smarter decisions about how best to manage all aspects of your institution’s operations through data analysis strategies which will lead to increased value, efficiency, and effectiveness.
If you’d like to get instant insights to help increase your student retention and engagement, have a look at what Teach Beacon offers.