The Journey:  Fostering a Data-Informed Culture

September 27, 2021

Higher Education faces increasing challenges. These challenges include expanding competition, changing demographics, altered perceptions of the value of a college degree, and a pandemic. Rapid, complex changes such as these require thoughtful, yet timely responses. All of us, from trade schools to Tier I research institutions, must look at how to best restructure people and process for greatest success, not only for economic feasibility and academic growth, but also to support institutional culture.

Concordia University’s leadership team recognizes these obstacles and has formulated a plan to address them. Our University’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness (OIE) ensures a holistic, coordinated, interdependent approach, one that leads to greater coherence and better decision making. Each month, I will be sharing insight into our journey with a particular focus on program evaluation and management.

The Journey Begins

Concordia is a private university with campuses in Mequon, Wisconsin and Ann Arbor, Michigan. The University made the decision to have a dedicated resource focusing on financial sustainability. In November 2020, I stepped into the newly-created role of Director, Strategic Financial Planning and Analysis. I was charged with leading our annual budget development, conducting market analysis on current and new academic programs, and providing ad hoc financial analysis as requested. The larger team, led by our OIE Executive Director, comprises a few research-oriented positions, our Registrar, and our Director of Business Intelligence. Below is a partial chart of our organizational structure.

Our OIE Executive Director reports to the Provost, as do the deans of our six schools. This reporting structure provides opportunities to improve the quality of our academic programs through data-informed action as well as systematic, explicit, and documented processes that measure performance.

Guiding Academic Program Decisions

Our centralized OIE team supports the academic programs within each school through business process, data governance, and data analysis.

Business Process – This is foundational. It creates the raw data being governed. Over the past few years, our team has streamlined many business processes through automation and elimination of manual or redundant tasks. As a result of this work, we are experiencing higher levels of operational efficiency as well as better data quality (data governance).

Data Governance – The Academic Program Support Team (APST) meets monthly and evaluates new program proposals as well as proposals to make changes to existing programs. APST membership consists of a cross-functional group of faculty, staff, and administrators who review each proposal to ensure market, financial, and curricular information is clearly and accurately outlined in the proposal. Operational details such as coding, catalog requirements, and billing rules are also discussed prior to approval.

Data Analysis – Consistent and clear business process coupled with robust data governance enable timely and insightful data analyses that fully and accurately express our institutional story. With this information we can make faster, better-informed decisions to address the rapidly changing environment Higher Education is facing today.

By fostering a data-informed culture, we are cultivating excellence across the university and equipping leaders with meaningful and accessible information. This enables the University to plan proactively and pivot creatively to achieve institutional goals.

Andy Dunn is the Director, Strategic Financial Planning and Analysis with Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. He oversees Concordia’s budget process and is developing an integrated approach to academic program portfolio optimization, with a focus on institutional mission, markets, and margins. He has over 20 years of experience in the financial services, health care, and higher education industries.

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Gray Associates, Inc. provides the best available data, software, and facilitated processes to help higher education institutions make high-stakes decisions regarding academic programs, pricing, and locations.

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