Friday, July 31, 2009

Analytics at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (1)

Guest Blogger: Dr. Linda Baer, Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs, Minnesota State College and Universities

The concept of a comprehensive, technology-supported analytics capacity was an important element in the overall vision of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, created through the merger of three systems of institutions. The system was to ultimately serve a comprehensive continuum of educational needs from courses, certificates, diplomas, baccalaureates, through graduate degrees. The programmatic responses to these needs took on a range of forms, and analytics were developed to measure, monitor, and manage the programs. For MnSCU, vision, technology, and initiatives have come together, in an expeditionary manner, over time.

Creating the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System required merging three systems from the separate technical colleges, community colleges and state universities. One of the most critical issues for success in the merger was the ability to have common data. This was a big order given that the three systems had existed in very separate realms with different approaches to data including a wide range of practices around highly centralized data in the colleges to highly decentralized data in the state universities. Creating the capacity of all colleges and universities to operate within a more standardized system was the challenge. This constituted the first foundational work to ultimately create a futuristic, broad-based analytics system.

In order to create an integrated data system, it was necessary to develop standardized definitions of data, create a data warehouse, and craft the capacity to mine the data and retrieve data for reports and decision making across the thirty-two institutions.

Metrics and Analytics for Diverse Populations. The vision remained; serving the comprehensive continuum of educational needs, not only in terms of certificates and degrees but also the full continuum of services to an increasingly diverse student population. The technical colleges served adult learners, career changers and employer training needs. The community colleges served more traditional learners as recent high school graduates on occupational pathways or in transfer programs. The state universities served as comprehensive institutions serving as residential and commuting campuses with a wide array of student diversity.

Innovation Through Initiatives. Initiatives and programs were developed to assist these diverse campuses to work together on behalf of student learners. Initiatives included transfer articulation agreements between and among campuses; the development of baccalaureates of applied sciences with universities and technical colleges forming partnerships to design and deliver the curriculum; exploratory work on developing state-of-the-art, on-line student services and an expansion of targeted curriculum. Yet the key vision of serving the wide range of students required more – much more. Initiatives were developed to support serving underserved students in more flexible, personalized and customizable models. Student success was paramount with programs being developed in partnerships with K-12; middle colleges were created to serve a fused 11-14 grade level. A statewide P-16 Council was developed to begin to create better alignment between high school curriculum and college level courses. Firs- Year Experiences were launched at many campuses. As this reflects, there were many innovative projects.

Investing in Serving the Underserved. The state legislature funded a significant investment in serving the underserved student population; first generation, low income, at-risk students. The requirements were that campuses needed to develop more successful partnerships with high schools and create recruitment and retention strategies. The Board of Trustees and the Chancellor of the system created a campus-level dashboard that reflected progress towards the goal of improving serving underserved students as measured by enrollments and retention over time by race and gender. This year the accomplishments of the agreed-upon targets were used in the performance evaluation of each president.

Linking Activities and Metrics. The second foundation step is to begin to link these many activities. The technology and infrastructure capacity of the system was supporting a large data warehouse with selected data mining capabilities. The dashboard enabled full display of campus and system accomplishments. Yet, the question remained: What activities were contributing to the most student learning and student success? A beginning activity was to build a repository of best practices so all campuses could share and learn from the activities of others. Direct reporting required campuses to describe what programs led to what student accomplishments.

Boosting Analytics and Predictive Modeling. Realizing that the next big step was to develop analytic and predictive modeling capabilities, the system contracted with three vendors to assess the system capacity to go to the next level of analytics. Recommendations were provided that assisted the system in determining the next investments required to move to the next level where, using national, state and local data, we could develop student information dashboards so each faculty member could review where the student was academically and then advise the best academic choices for ongoing success. Curricular assessment could be made to see what components of course learning worked for students and what needed more emphasis so tutoring and advising could further align best learning experiences to accomplish successful learning. The goal is to be able to individualize the learning experience to where students can be advised in a manner where the message is: “Students like you were most successful in ultimately graduating in this field when they did the following… course pathways, simulation models, tutoring, summer enrichments, internships and apprenticeships, etc.”

The Technology Is Getting Smarter. Our capacity to assess and advise for success is getting smarter. We are compelled to continue to build the best action analytics and predictive modeling that we can to significantly improve student learning, student success, student matriculation and ultimately worker/professional success on the job or in the career of their choice. The imperative is to re-create and transform higher education to be the direct provider of successful learning experiences that lead to highly competent, globally competitive workers and professionals.

Our next steps include further exploration of better longitudinal student data across P-16. This will allow analysis of student course taking and success and also the assessment of what teachers are teaching what curriculum that result in better college and university success. In addition, we intend to link with workforce representatives and the department of employment and economic development to assess linkages between curricula, based on national industry standards and other curriculum and entry level worker competency, low-skilled adult training and skill development and targeted incumbent workforce professional development.

Tomorrow's blog will describe MnSCU's dashboard initiative in greater detail.

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