How Would You Ideally Use Data? NCAN Members Respond

July 2, 2014

Bill DeBaun, Program Analyst

In an upcoming white paper, NCAN will reveal the results of a data systems and usage survey of our members and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of various popular data platforms in the market. At NCAN, we know that the purposeful and applied use of data can be transformative for college access and success programs, but we did not have as full a grasp on what the data practices in the field were. Not all of the questions on the survey will make it into the final paper, and as a sneak preview, we consider here what programs said they would use data for under ideal conditions.

Our survey question asked, “In an ideal world, how would your program use and benefit from data collected on students’ postsecondary enrollment and completion?” The (lightly edited) responses we received are more or less separable into a few different threads.

First, there were members who said that data usage would help them become more “effective” through identifying programmatic strengths and weaknesses. One program replied that they would use data “to measure effectiveness and make changes to ensure efforts and strategies are effective and efficient.” Another noted, that data would ideally be “used for students and stakeholders in the community to show…the effectiveness of our program and their potential.” Some respondents said that they would measure this effectiveness through formal program evaluations while others said that having better data would just give them a fuller sense of student outcomes in general.

Next, there were members who thought that better data usage could help them to more efficiently identify students’ individual needs in terms of appropriate interventions. In this way, data would serve as a kind of early warning system for students. One member responded that they could use additional data to “focus intervention initiatives” while another said they would “target specific reasons for students not completing [and] develop strategies to get to students so that they are more likely to attain and complete their postsecondary plan.”

Along with the early warning responses were members who felt that having more data would help them provide better services to students. For example, one respondent told us better data would assist with “tracking progress towards goals, identifying students who struggle, [and] describing our outcomes for others.” Another noted that data would be used “to help better support our alumni through to college graduation and prepare our high school students for college success” but didn’t specifically describe how that would occur.

One particularly robust response noted,

This data, if captured consistently and reliably, could help place students in the colleges where they are most likely to succeed. It could help pinpoint issues with financial aid and loan debt early on, giving proof of "how much is too much" when it comes to financial burdens and college retention/completion. Most of all we could identify what works and what doesn't work with our programming in order to create a college counseling program with the greatest benefit for our students.

In this vein, another common usage of data that members said they would like to achieve is to identify institution-specific outcomes of students participating in their programs. For example, “Enrollment and completion data is critical to [our] work, as our program supports students through college graduation. Enrollment and success data is used to inform advising by pre-college staff re: where students are successful, where they struggle, etc. This data is critical to our programming and our success.” Another program echoed that they could use data to “make recommendations to our students in high school [about] schools that are graduating students from the same high school at a higher rate.”

Finally, there were also programs who thought that their improved usage of data could attract more funders or resources. “Accurate and updated data could give us real time data to more effectively raise money and recruit corporations to employ our students through our work study program,” said one program. Another concurred that they would use data to assist in “acquiring funding for successful practices” that were identified through data analysis. Still a third noted that additional data would help them “gain access to more grant money.”

And what would such an ideal system be able to do, according to our respondents? “It would be easily accessible, customizable, and simple to extract reports from,” hoped one program. Another described the ideal system as providing “easy and secure access to student-level data.” Still another program described the ideal system as being used for “both aggregate and individualized purposes.” A last respondent with a good sense of they want described a multi-level system, “integrated on the student level in working with each person…integrated on the staff caseload level to manage our workflow and identify areas of strength and weakness, and…integrated on a program wide level to see trends and outcomes.”

Check out the graph above for a breakdown of the frequency with which respondents gave us different types of responses. How would you or your program better use data under ideal conditions? Let us know in the comments or by tweeting at @2CollegeNetwork. Be on the lookout for NCAN’s upcoming white paper on data usage and platforms sometime in August!

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