of Inquiry and
Consider the following scenario: Your institution launches a learning community initia- tive, with hopes of improving student engagement and success. Working in collaboration with staff and faculty members from various disciplines, you establish and implement a series of developmental education courses linked with discipline-based offerings. One year later, you gather to review the potential impact of this effort. Questions are swirling. Did students in learning communities have higher rates of completing the developmental education courses as well as the sequence? Was there greater persistence from term to term? Did participating students earn more credentials? How did they fare on student learning outcomes? Early figures on the impact of the learning communities are lower than anticipated. There is, at best, a mar- ginal improvement in student performance. Immediately, some in the room question the viability of the learning communities, citing the data as well as the difficulty in sustaining and institutionalizing these efforts. You keenly remember
the effort that went into this endeavor and its potential promise and feel uncomfortable disbanding the initiative. How do you, as
a team, review the data and make sense of the implications? How do you use that information to inform your next steps?
This article offers a process of inquiry that can help higher education leaders make high-impact decisions about new initiatives
and existing programs or services and ultimately enhance student learning outcomes.
What Do PraCtitioners say about Data?
Facts and figures about various aspects of student outcomes
and institutional performance are more abundant than ever
in program reviews, accountability reports, and planning
documents. In many cases, data revolve around institutional-level metrics such as productivity, efficiency, retention, and
graduation and transfer rates, which are all important elements to measure.
The biggest challenge is moving from a place where
data simply is made available to a place where data and
analytics are used to help institutions transform their
structures, approaches, and student experiences to improve
outcomes. While colleges and universities are successfully
tracking varied metrics, many lack the capacity to analyze
the evidence and use it to inform decision making. In other
words, higher education institutions tend to be data rich but