The democratization of data in higher education: A case study of the challenges that institutions face as they seek to improve student success

ISKME White Paper
February 1st, 2004
Publication Author: 
Lisa Petrides
Resource Type: 

In the current climate of increased external accountability and increased internal pressure to improve student performance, many colleges and universities are grappling with how to broaden access to data and information so as to improve decision-making—a trend this report refers to as the democratization of data. In the past decade, advances in user-friendly information technology are enabling faculty, administrators, and staff to retrieve and analyze a host of information themselves, right from their desktops. For example, they can perform data searches, track student performance, monitor section enrollments in real-time, and estimate various budgetary impacts. By equipping people at all organizational levels with the data and information they need, colleges can enable them to make better decisions about how to reach and serve students.

Colleges and universities are finding, however, that the democratization of data brings with it cultural as well as technical or procedural transformations. For example, it requires having departments work together to agree upon the kinds of information to track and to whom to make it available; changing channels of information flow; rewarding efforts to share information and knowledge rather than hoard it; being transparent about budgetary impacts; and valuing a culture of inquiry that identifies areas for improvement and supports analysis that pursues real change over time.

Given the robust technological capabilities now available, colleges and universities that seek to understand and improve their rates of student success will inevitably confront, either deliberately or unwittingly, their own institutional practices and attitudes concerning access to and use of data. This report, in describing some of the major challenges that one higher education institution faced as it reconsidered its use of data and information in decision-making, outlines an investigative process to consider when seeking to improve student success and organizational effectiveness through the democratization of data. The report presents findings and identifies several important policy implications, at the campus and state levels, that could improve student outcomes by enhancing the use of data and information in decision-making.