Data Management

Why Quantifiable Information is Important

Good management of data and effective assessment is valuable to a college access program for multiple reasons:

Feedback for program enhancement
The most valuable result of assessment is the use of data to drive decisions about making programs stronger and more effective. Data can be used to prepare programs for process evaluation (measuring how well the implementation of program components is conducted and how the activities align with needs and strategies) as well as outcome evaluation (measuring how well the program meets the goals and objectives desired, based upon client participation and outcomes). Using data and keeping the mission of your program at the forefront of your thinking allows access advisors to play an integral role in the success of theorganization.

Determination of service utilization
Effective use of data can help identify which services are being used most effectively and by whom. Research and best practices should inform program design; assessment can tell whether program components are actually helping meet program objectives and whether clients consider them valuable. Good data use can help program administrators and access advisors determine which activities and services help support postsecondary access and success. As the primary person providing direct services to the student, your access program should have a tracking system (preferably electronic and/or web-based) that allows you to record all services provided to students. It is critical that you gather not only to whom the services were provided, but also what types and when the services were rendered.

Identification of gaps in service
As programs begin to plan strategically to extend and/or expand services, collection and analysis of assessment data can help identify where there are gaps in services. Understanding which groups of students have the greatest need for services and where services are and are not being delivered effectively can be very helpful in designing service components and focusing outreach and delivery to fill critical gaps. Effective use of data to drive decision-making and program practice will ensure a culture of assessment in which staff will welcome the identification of problem areas to allow them to improve program services.

Reporting for program managers, boards of directors and the public
Ongoing data collection and tracking will allow for data reporting that can help managers and advisors determine productivity and value of services. It also can provide information that will help them assist students in pursuing their educational and career goals. To properly oversee the operations of the program and to ensure fiscal responsibility, boards of directors need accurate and effective reporting of program participation and outcomes. Finally, annual reports and publications for consumption by the public and community partners always should contain information about the effectiveness of services provided by the college access program and advisors. Assessment and evaluation lend enormous credibility to college access programs. The validation of your work as an access advisor will help the board, staff and other stakeholders determine the options for growth and change.

Information for fund providers
In a competitive fundraising environment, effective reporting of data will raise donors’ confidence, lead to greater support and secure sustainability and stability of the organization. It is no longer sufficient to report the numbers of students served, or which groups of students are participating (though this information is always useful). While it is extremely helpful to paint an emotional picture of a program’s impact, it also is no longer sufficient to rely on individual testimonials from students and families. Foundations and government funding agencies increasingly want to know quantitatively the program’s progress toward meeting specific objectives, especially verified enrollment data and graduation data from postsecondary institutions.

Preparedness for evaluation
Preparation for evaluation is enhanced when program management and access advisors embrace a culture that values the use of data to inform staff and board about program implementation, client satisfaction and impact. Managers should give advisors time to collect and analyze data. While data may identify gaps and problem areas, program administrators should approach information in the spirit of seeking ways to improve services to students and families.