Part 3 – Is data still relevant in these uncertain times?
As a data analyst in higher education, I deal with facts. When a decision is unclear, or uncertainty dominates the room (or the Zoom), data can be the apolitical decision-maker. Data can be your ally, supporting your experience and understanding of the issues.
But today things are different. The facts around COVID are not holding still long enough for us to base plans around them. Many of us believe we need to wait out current events to find the type of answers data can provide. While this may be the case, it is essential to maintain a continuity of using data in your decision making.
For now, get personal.
So what do you do in the short term? Take those big data projects and pare them down to better address individual student and employee needs.
- Ask your students, employees, and alumni their opinion on how effectively your institution responded to COVID-19.
- Continue to ask them frequently as things change.
- Identify your most vulnerable populations and address their needs.
How? Work with those who can find patterns in the data to personalize your approach to your marketing, branding, and communications.
This will highlight your institution’s strengths and create certainty in an uncertain time.
You don’t have to do this alone; I am happy to have a conversation to show you how to get this started.
While this might not be the time for big data projects, maintaining a conversation with data experts is essential right now. If you let this work slide, you’ll be at a loss when things do return to normal. You must maintain baseline data to understand where you have been and where you will be going, once the engine of your institution is once again at full throttle.
Taking the long view
The pandemic and the shift to online learning have made us aware of our essential core mission – educating students while keeping them healthy — at a much higher level of intensity than before. This stripped-down vision is forcing college administrators to be sure they understand the serious questions needed to sustain a safe learning environment. This requires reflection, collaboration, familiarity with regulations, and an understanding of how to manage risk.
Overall, college administrators have created new processes, refined the critical questions and gained greater awareness of how to handle issues on a college campus. I see this skill being useful in the future, when we return to the challenges we were facing before COVID-19. Remember the decline in overall college enrollment, the student loan debt crisis, and equity issues?
So as we approach the next challenge, let’s keep making smart decisions based on data. I think we should make hope, communications, and collaboration our highest priorities. We have a chance to turn uncertainty into confidence, and learn from our difficulties to become a better higher education community.