In a recent article, Noel-Levitz consultant Lew Sanborne presented two common complaints from college campuses — complaints that form opposite ends of a seesaw.
One extreme is what he calls the “data-rich-and-information-poor” school. “The data-rich institution has tons of data,” Sanborne describes, “but has not taken the time to figure out what it means or what anyone should do about it. Sometimes a campus gets stuck in a cycle of ‘analysis paralysis,’ where every review of data set leads to more questions and the need for more data.”
The other extreme is the campus that claims they have no data, and squeaks by on plain anecdote. “Data may be hard to get out of the system, there may be mistrust of the data that is available, or there simply may not be a culture of data-informed decision-making. So campus leaders make decisions based on their best guess, or often, based on the most compelling anecdote.”
So what now? Sanborne suggests a midpoint: merge data with narrative.
Who doesn’t love a good story? But at the same time, just how far does a mere story go in our bustling world of facts and figures before it runs out of gas? Sanborne’s point is that colleges need both. “Casting a situation analysis as a story provides a hook,” he argues. “It adds a depth of meaning that tables and charts alone simply cannot accomplish. … [But] any claim in the story has to be substantiated by some piece of evidence, some data point.”
Those are the two challenges Sanborne has given his campus partners in many SWOT (strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats) analyses. The result? “Those who have been reluctant to start with the data, now embrace it. … We can find data to support the narratives we should be telling on our campuses.”
Colleges’ need for a data-powered narrative has been in EMSI’s sights from the beginning. Every college has stories they need to tell, and they need the data to tell it. What programs should you offer? What has your impact been on the community? What is the story of your enrollment? How do you keep your students enrolled? What are your students’ stories after they leave campus and make their way into the labor market?
We help institutions on both ends of the spectrum: those who have data but don’t know what it means (no story) and those who need some proof to put behind their “once upon a time.” Analyst, our web-based labor market information tool, provides your school with easy-to-understand regional (or even nationwide) data that tells you which jobs are needed — so you can align your curriculum to the community’s (or nation’s) needs. Career Coach makes those jobs and programs clear to students and jobseekers who come to your college’s website, wondering which careers are hot in the area and how to prepare for them. And EMSI’s Economic Impact Study gives your institution’s story to the audience that needs it most: the students, the parents, and the community that need to know that their money, through you, is actually making a difference.
“When data support the stories we tell on our campuses,” Sanborne concludes, “then we build confidence in the narrative and an understanding about what the data mean and what we should be doing about it. … Whether we start with the story or the data, at some point the two need to come together.”
At EMSI, we’re not just about data. We’re about helping you find (and tell) your story.
If you have questions or would like to learn more about EMSI’s tools, please contact Rob Sentz (firstname.lastname@example.org).