Rethink data: Disrupt your analytics

August 12, 2019
  • Competencies
  • Compliance and Reporting
  • Data Stewardship
  • Institutional Research
  • Interpretation and Application of Data
  • Records and Academic Services
  • Reporting and Research
  • leveraging tech & data
Hand against sunrise background with pinpoints of light surrounding it.

Like most campuses, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Worldwide Campus* data analytics were driven by IPEDS definitions. However, these static views of headcount and registrations did not always capture the full picture of the operation and the movement of students. Neither did the data offer sufficient information to support decisions about effective marketing practices or degree program offerings. 

“We had to break out of the mindset of ‘what do federal and state regulators want to see?’ and begin to think about how we would look at data in order to answer any question we wanted to ask internally,” said Mike Williams, Executive Director of Strategy, Innovation & Effectiveness and Assistant Professor of Business at ERAU-Worldwide. 

Beyond IPEDS

According to Williams, IPEDS reporting metrics have failed to keep up with the rapidly changing landscape of higher education. “Traditional” and “non-traditional” students are no longer the norm, and new parameters may be in order.

“I sat down with the Chancellor and started looking at our central data, saying: ‘If we could answer any question, what would we ask? If we could abandon IPEDS and had no restraints, what would we do and what approaches would we take to the data?’”

Worldwide Chancellor John R. Watret created a new department called Worldwide Strategy, Innovation, and Effectiveness to build analytics from scratch that would allow him to view the entire operation as well as empower faculty and staff to contribute to the continued evolution of the campus.  That shift in approach led Worldwide to rethink their data in ways that supported unique projects, identify emerging trends, and track retention trends. Of course, they didn’t forsake their IPEDS data, but rather created parallel data paths without substantially increasing their workload.


Putting this new set of decision analytics into action lead to a $250,000 retention pilot that in a 6-month period successfully reactivated 1,000 students and created $1.34 million in tuition revenue. 


Pilot project renders results

Worldwide began to rethink data in new ways, such as:

  • Looking at student behavior within a given academic year instead of as a cohort.  

  • Looking at course take rate and rate of pursuit across academic years and student segments. 

  • Grouping students into segments based on whether they were Military, Civilian, or Veteran followed by gender, age group and program category (engineering, aeronautics, business, logistics, etc.).  

  • Correlations between age group, course rate of pursuit and course performance. 

From this new set of definitions, strategic business units were asked to identify the top questions they seek to answer daily about their operation(s).  This further led to the development of functional definitions to address the deficits between the strategic business units’ questions and the existing suite of definitions (common data set).  

Discoveries made with the new analytics included:

  • Worldwide was quickly becoming a campus that catered to the under 25 student population and not just over 25, as previously assumed.

  • The inclusion of engineering programs allowed the institution to attract more females into what was seen as a male-dominated segment (aviation and aerospace).

  • Courses and programs were built for working adults with industry experience not new incoming students with work history that may be limited to working part-time in fast food or doing chores.     

Putting this new set of decision analytics into action lead to a $250,000 retention pilot that in a 6-month period successfully reactivated 1,000 students and created $1.34 million in tuition revenue. 


A (data) world with no boundaries

Williams will bring his “Rethinking Data” session to the 2019 AACRAO SEM Conference, where he will talk about what led to the decision to change, how it was implemented with the cooperation of faculty and staff, and how other institutions can create parallel sets of analytics to better serve students.

Learn more and register now for the 2019 SEM Conference. 

*The Worldwide Campus serves over 23,000 students across 40 different countries in 130+ locations and online.  


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