Big data has big potential for higher education, but is it ready?

Real opportunities exist for higher education to make better use of its data and other sources of data.
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Citing the growth and success of enterprises of all sorts leveraging their stores of data to make better decisions and improve their businesses, Sean Devine wondered in the Huffington Post yesterday why higher education isn't doing the same.

He said real opportunities exist for higher education to make better use of its data and other sources of data. The challenge, he said is that the "most useful data is likely to be fragmented and held in multiple systems within an institution, from IT to administrators to individual professors." If that data can be collected, aggregated and generate actionable results, it could help identify problem areas and ensure the proper allocation of resources to create better learning outcomes. He cited alarming numbers from the Department of Education on the percentage of adults with post-secondary degrees and the $1 trillion worth of student loan debt, and said these could be improved by better use of data.

"Predictive analytics hold the promise that faculty and administrators can intervene at an earlier juncture and help positively impact learning outcomes that ultimately lead to higher graduation rates," he said.

It also could address rising tuition costs, graduation rates, understanding demographics and the needs of non-traditional students. He cited the data-mining project called Predictive Analytics Reporting (PAR) Framework, from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, WCET and the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, as examples of initiatives that work.

But for the most part, technology officials at many colleges and universities feel under-equipped to take on the challenge, said Steve Kolowich, in his article this week in Inside Higher Ed. He acknowledged that the idea that colleges should be more data-driven is catching on in executive circles, but "few campus technology officers think their institutions are making smart investments in technology tools that would realize the promise of "big data."

A survey from the Campus Computing Project said only 23 percent of technology officials in the project's annual survey rated their institution's investment in technology resources aimed at data analysis and managerial analytics as very effective, calling it "a cold water bath for proponents of big data in academe."

The Campus Computing Project was started in 1990. It includes annual Campus Computing Survey and national surveys of presidents, provosts and other senior campus officials conducted in collaboration with Inside Higher Ed.

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