Like most online education programs, our adult degree program saw tremendous growth over the past five years. Again, like most online education programs, managing the growth became top priority.
Decisions had to be made without the luxury of time to truly consider long-term impact. Because of the demand for online education, there really were no wrong decisions. Students, adults especially, wanted the flexibility, access and convenience online courses and degrees provided, so these programs continued to grow, no matter what.
At some point, however, the program’s success will be at risk if decisions continue to be made in a vacuum or solely as a reaction to the most recent provocations. The best decisions are those made with reliable data. The challenge of data-driven decision making is not deciding which data is needed; rather, it’s understanding why you need it. A plethora of data is available in any program, but separating what is interesting from what will help you make better decisions is the crucial step in the process.
To help determine what you want to measure, you have to understand why you’re measuring it. How will the data help you? The Education Advisory Board (EAB) suggests three reasons for gathering data:
- Assess the size and scope of your operations
- Measure the efficiency of your work
- Determine the effectiveness of your efforts
With that framework in mind, there are several key performance indicators (KPI) that can be measured in each of these categories. In addition, you can use this framework under specific areas of your operations. For our operations, I have chosen four areas with significant impact on our overall operations and where the knowledge regarding size/scope, efficiency and effectiveness will provide the information needed to make better decisions.
The four areas are financial management, admissions, enrollment and retention. KPIs in each of these areas allow for a better understanding of what we need to reach the next level. Once you determine what you’re measuring and why, determining the reports and data needed becomes a much easier process. There are a few metrics to help measure each of these elements. For example, number of applicants, admits, and enrolled are metrics that establish the size and scope of the operations for admissions whereas staff time per student measures your efficiency. Effectiveness is measured by your acceptance rate.
Data is all around us and keeping up with it can be a tremendous challenge. Without a clear understanding of both “what” and “why” regarding data, you can run reports daily without a clear reason for doing so. Realizing there’s specific data that can move your program forward to help reach goals will clarify which metrics to choose and what data to pull.
With practice, as specific challenges arise, you will be more familiar with the data you have and more selective of what data you will need to meet a particular challenge. With regular review of your KPIs, you will be able to forecast trends and identify issues early, allowing you more flexibility as an organization and security in the knowledge that the decisions you make are based on solid data.
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