The ability to properly analyze data has always been a core skill for admissions professionals, but the need has become even more important given the increased variability and unpredictability that’s come with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Admissions professionals, though, struggle to effectively manipulate data in order to gain useful and actionable insights, according to a recent study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). The study, which surveyed nearly 1,500 professionals, found that while there is general agreement that increasing data capacity would improve performance at the individual, departmental, and institution levels, few admissions professionals have the data skills required. Additionally, few institutions offer data training needed to strengthen these skills.
Today’s admissions professionals are expected to use data daily to evaluate and make decisions using a funnel analysis, market analysis, trend analysis, and more. These all require a high aptitude for data manipulation and interpretation.
To achieve this, NACAC’s focus group participants identified seven critical data 101 training areas as listed below:
- Queries/questions: Professionals should be equipped with formulating the right queries and questions to pull the appropriate data needed for analysis.
- Obtaining data: Professionals should then know where to pull the appropriate data. In many cases, an IR office is used to obtain institutional data while others may need to pull data through surveys or other means.
- Data analysis: Once the data is collected, an admissions professional should be equipped with analyzing the data to fully understand what it means. For example, does the data tell us why students from certain locations enroll compared to others?
- Data management: Users who have access to this data should then know how to properly store the information to protect others. These professionals should know about ethical concerns, privacy measures, and how to protect personal information.
- Strategic data use: Once the data is vetted, professionals should be able to strategize actions based on the information they’ve received. They need to answer questions, such as: how does this information help certain departments and how do we allocate resources based on the needs?
- Interpreting external data: Professionals should be equipped with how to use data from external sources, including identifying trends and understanding interferences.
- Communicating data findings: Finally, professionals should know how to effectively communicate the data findings they’ve received. This includes how to best present the information so it is digestible to all stakeholders.
Enhancing Data Skills
To ensure you’re utilizing your admissions workforce to the best of their abilities, it’s necessary to implement a strong data training program. This program needs to encompass the key skills needed and work to overcome the barriers employees site around developing their data skills.
Survey respondents said the ideal data training program would include the following topics:
- Programs: How to manipulate CRM data, use basic spreadsheet functions, how to build critical thinking skills, and how to effectively share data.
- Analysis skills: How to analyze data to identify patterns, how to disaggregate data, and how to identify critical points.
- Data literacy: A basic training in statistics that covers how to add context to data and accurately summarize findings.
Survey participants described a number of barriers that kept them from developing their data skills, including the lack of time to practice core functionalities, limited access to data due to working remotely, and difficulty finding solutions once problems were identified. One participant also said they felt intimidated by data, “I think there’s some hesitancy from some folks to actually looking at data or understanding it. They say, ‘I’m not a numbers person’.”
Although survey participants, particularly emerging professionals, said they struggled with gaining the data training they need, survey respondents acknowledged the importance of having critical thinking skills to perform essential functions and develop careers in the field.
“Ideally, training will allow admissions professionals to use data, beginning with data collection and formulating questions, to analyzing, managing, strategically using, interpreting, and communicating data findings,” said one survey participant.
Implementing the Training
Survey participants provided an assortment of ideas and feedback, which includes ensuring content is robust with use cases and examples without being overwhelming. Content should also include the strategy behind certain use cases and how important data points were identified.
Understanding data management and ethical concerns related to data should also be a topic of discussion, said participants. Teachers should explain any privacy considerations, how to protect personal information, how to share data, and how to be aware of any bias.
The recommendations are just the tipping point to creating a workforce that’s made up of data experts. To create a competent team, decision makers must adjust their training programs to keep up with changing resources, concerns, and times.
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About the Author
Senior Director of Higher Ed Industry Solutions at Salesforce.org
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