Data Analytics | Feature

Harnessing Campuswide Data for Student Success

Three best practices for analyzing the factors that influence student performance.

Hilbert College, with an enrollment of just over 1,000 students in Hamburg, NY, is at the cutting edge of data-driven decision making. In 2010, the school collaborated with Evisions and Ellucian to tailor Evisions' Argos Reporting Solution for integration not only with the school's PowerCampus by Ellucian administrative suite, but also with other academic systems, such as Blackboard and Front Rush, a cloud-based athletic recruiting database for college coaches.

Using the integrated systems, branded as PowerCampus Enterprise Reporting and PowerCampus Analytics, Hilbert has created more than 80 automated reports culled from campuswide data--that have proved invaluable to admissions and retention.

"Once you start seeing information in ways that you could never see it before, it immediately takes you to another level," remarks Michael Murrin, vice president of information services at the college. "It triggers another question about something else that wasn't previously on your radar."

The Hilbert team offers three best practices for harnessing the power of campuswide reporting and analytic systems to further the success of students and the institution.

1) Rectify processes that result in misleading graduation rates.
One of the benefits of analyzing data culled from a campuswide system is that it allows administrators to easily rectify discrepancies in data. This was especially helpful when analyzing discrepancies in Hilbert's graduation rates, which are reported to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and published on federal financial aid forms and through various outlets.

"When advising incoming students, advisers were guiding lower-performing students into a two-year associates degree program as a way to give those students a chance to prove that they were capable of performing at a collegiate level," says Murrin. (Hilbert College did not begin offering baccalaureate degrees until 1992.) Once the reporting systems were in place, administrators were able to recognize that Hilbert's graduation rate was lower than it should be because two-year students who later decided to transfer to a baccalaureate program within the college were being reported as not having graduated from the associate degree program, even if they successfully completed a four-year degree program.

"Because we were able to identify this discrepancy through our reporting and analytics software, we have a new policy set that requires students in a two-year program to complete their associate degree before moving them into a baccalaureate program," explains Murrin. "Parents and students are paying much more attention to the success rates of institutions of higher learning, so rectifying this issue has a huge impact on the marketability of our school."

2) Identify factors in incoming students that lead to success.
When Hilbert administrators started looking at the performance of recruiters in the admissions office, they saw some significant differences between individual recruiters. "It was curious that we were seeing high conversion rates for one recruiter in particular," remarks Murrin. "But as we started looking into that data, we realized that the success was because this individual was dealing with transfer students rather than first-time college students."

Using PowerCampus Enterprise Reporting and Analytics, Murrin was able to generate reports on the historical performance of recruiters who handled transfer students. "It was almost the exact same percentages, so what it showed us is that we have very high conversion rates among transfer students," explains Murrin.

The team drilled down further into the data and found that first-time college students had lower percentages by a fairly notable amount, compared to the graduation rate of transfer students. "Our transfer students were getting very high success rates, and couple that back with what we were seeing on conversion rates on the applicant side, and we immediately knew we had to spend more time reaching out to transfer students," says Murrin. "We now have new efforts under way to develop relationships and articulation agreements with schools from which we've recruited transfer students, and these efforts have helped us keep our enrollment numbers high as the rate of high school graduates in our area has dropped."

3) Identify factors that indicate a drop in academic success.
Hilbert's reporting and analytic systems have also been helpful in analyzing students who don't succeed, and identifying key indicators that can alert administrators to students in need of intervention. "We ended up with some interesting information as we analyzed the rate of students dropping out due to funding issues," notes Murrin. "If a student fell in a certain range financially, then consequently we'd lose them. It's allowed us to make some adjustments in the awarding of financial aid to certain students that fall within that range, so, on the financial support side we've already been able to tweak that and make a difference."

A deeper ongoing study focuses on identifying the students who are dropping out for academic reasons, and analyzing why it's happening. "What are the things that we can identify?" asks Murrin. "Is it those students who are coming from specific colleges with specific GPA scores? Where are they failing? Who is their instructor and what's the success rate of that instructor's students? What are the indicators and alerts that these students are going to be running into problems down the road, so that they will become the early alerts for us and give us the ability to guide the students properly?"

Conversely, Murrin and his team are also learning by studying indicators of success. "There's another side to this issue," remarks Murrin. "Why are the success rates of transfer students so strong? What can we look at as key indicators on the success side that we can then take and adapt this to the students who may not be set up for success?"

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