Evidence Based Decision Making for Community Colleges

A Conversation with Community College Leaders on the use of Dashboards and KPIs

As part of our preparations to attend the American Association of Community Colleges conference on April 5th-8th, we have been focusing on some of the success stories of our Community College customers.  We had a chance to sit down and chat with several leaders of New Hampshire Community Colleges who we worked with them to create a set of real time dashboards for reporting.  The dashboards give them real time access to Key Performance Indicators around overall enrollment, graduation rates, credits sold, and program enrollment.

We chatted with:
Dr. Ross Gittell, Chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire
Dr. Alicia Harvey-Smith, President of River Valley Community College
Dr. Susan D. Huard, President of Manchester Community College

Here is an excerpt from the interviews:

What was the motivation behind the dashboard project?

Dr. Gittell:  Any decision I make I want to be driven by data and analysis. I want to make sure that everybody throughout our community college system at all of our seven colleges are using data in a way to inform what they do on a day to day and a strategic basis.  It was very important to ensure that we had a common data set, that we had timely data provided and that all of the Presidents and all of our Board of Trustees were working from a common data set so we are all able to act on the same information as we move forward as a system.

What were the questions you were looking to answer when you started work on the dashboards?

Manchester Community College

Manchester Community College

Dr. Huard:  We were interested in knowing how we were doing in comparison to last year. Enrollment is always a big number and particularly in the state of NH, it is all driven by the number of credits sold. So for us to know who is enrolling and how many credits a student is taking is very important to us.

The dashboards helped us to identify what proportion of students coming through the door as new enrollees were part time and what conversations should we be having. Then it (the dashboard) also became an indicator for our admissions folks as to where people were coming from and so what schools did we need to pay more attention to. It really is a device that is used by so many of the departments within the college. It really helps us stay on track. It answers the very basic question, “are we doing better than we did last year?”

How often do you look at the dashboards?

Dr. Harvey-Smith: I have the opportunity to look at the dashboards, literally daily. It’s the first bit of information that I review in the morning. It comes directly on my computer and to my phone.  I’m able to begin the day knowing where we are as an institution in terms of enrollment data and other critical information about programming.

Who else besides yourself looks at the dashboards?

Dr. Huard:  My entire leadership team can see them and in fact, frequently it’s the beginning of a conversation that I am having with them because I want them to keep the information at the forefront.

We also publish the information to the entire internal community- that’s about 600 recipients. We let them know in our Monday morning memo how it is we’re doing. It is a good indicator to people and it is kind of a spirit motivator.  When we’re doing well people feel good about what’s happening in the building and have a very positive attitude. That positive attitude just breeds more positivism.  It’s been very helpful to keep people informed and help them stay tied to the institution and our mission.

Are there any specific improvements that have occurred based on information provided in the dashboards?

Dr. Harvey-Smith with students from River Valley Community College

Dr. Harvey-Smith with students from River Valley Community College

Dr. Harvey-Smith: The most significant improvement made here has been the increased conversation around data and the use of data to create strategy.  One of the critical changes has certainly been a real awareness of our growing programs, and how to move them to higher levels of growth through our strategic enrollment management committee and then discussions on how to nurture and support and grow low enrolled programs.

Dr. Huard:  I think for me the biggest thing that has happened is that it has taken the fear away from doing assessment. Usually when people think about assessment they think about we’re going to find the things that we’re doing wrong.  What the dashboards have done is to make data collection less threatening and in most cases it ends up being positive. It inspires greater effort and pride in programs because it’s not about finger pointing. It’s about discovering the areas where we need to improve and about putting the emphasis in the right place.

Were there are any surprises you uncovered because of the dashboards?

Dr. Gittell: The biggest surprise is how much our trustees access the data. They see it as very positive to have access to that data..   If they are going into a meeting with the Governor or going into a meeting with a business person who says “How are your colleges doing? How is the system doing”, they can just get online and see that right away. It’s so easy to use, it’s visual, along with having the actual data there, they like the convenience.  They like that it’s real time and the like that we’re being transparent.  It goes beyond the data itself. It sends a message throughout the system we’re being fully transparent about our data, sharing it and learning from it. That sends a very powerful message from the Chair of the Board of Trustees down to a faculty member across all of our programs.

Dr. Huard: There have been a few surprises that have come out of the data for us and they are leading to some curricular change.  It’s always nice to be in a position that it is not the administrator who is saying to the faculty “would you please change this course?” The faculty can see it in the data themselves and they have become more comfortable using data. I look forward to more data driven decision making happening on this campus.

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Dr. Gittell will be joining Rapid Insight CEO, Mike Laracy for an interactive webinar discussion on April 17th.  They will be discussing the Rapid Insight QuickStart dashboards and how they have enhanced decision making and dialogue at their institutions. Register for the webinar here

Read the official announcement about QuickStart for Community Colleges

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