In our hyper-connected world, information technology plays a key role in nearly every field and industry. Higher education is no exception, and that’s where EDUCAUSE comes in.
This non-profit association works to advance higher education through the use of information technology. One of the primary ways EDUCAUSE achieves its goal is through its Core Data Service, a report on the use of information technology in higher education.
“The EDUCAUSE Core Data Service is based on a survey that we conduct annually,” explained Susan Grajek, EDUCAUSE’s Vice President of Data, Research and Analytics. “It’s a benchmarking survey about what colleges and universities are doing with and spending on information technology.”
Turning raw data into information you can act on
The EDUCAUSE Core Data Survey has two primary components:
- The survey that colleges and universities complete.
- The interface those institutions use to obtain data from the service.
Researchers and community members of EDUCAUSE collaborate to produce analyses and reports summarizing and exploring the data. Colleges and universities that respond to the survey have access to the data and can compare themselves to create custom peer groups of other institutions.
“Members use the information at all points in the lifecycle of decision making – from trying to understand the important issues in higher education overall, to deciding on what we should as a college or university do to address these issues,” said Grajek.
The institutions can take this information and apply it toward “three pillars of IT” – financing, staffing and services. They can use the data to substantiate the need for additional resources or new services, assess organizational structure and governance, or evaluate performance.
For example, the survey might show the average IT spending among a particular group of institutions similar to my university is 4.1 percent of the total institutional expenditures. But we are only allocating 2.3 percent. This could stimulate discussions on whether we are spending too little on IT and whether we should shift budget to better support our IT needs.
Other survey questions pertain to:
- The number of full-time staff members and their total compensation.
- Outsourcing of services and staffing.
- Solutions used for various enterprise applications.
- Instructional technologies.
- Research computing.
- Information security and protection.
- Wireless network access at the university and residence halls.
- And much more.
From cumbersome to awesome
In the past, institutions would download information from the Core Data Service survey, and then analyze enormous amounts of data, extracting what they needed. It was a time-consuming and clunky process. So EDUCAUSE decided to simplify it.
“EDUCAUSE redesigned the service to make it easier for users to download the data and interact with it on their own with a spreadsheet,” said Grajek. “People who were naturally analytic and loved to ‘geek out’ with spreadsheets were happy as clams. But the people who weren’t didn’t have any other option in the redesign because development of a reporting tool was deferred. So that meant that most of our members were initially unhappy.”
EDUCAUSE understood that colleges and universities devoted a great deal of time to provide data, and it wanted to give these institutions better access to it. The association embarked on a project to provide its members with interactive access to the data. The first step – turning to SAS.
According to Grajek, several factors distinguished SAS from other solution providers. “The first thing was that SAS is really an end-to-end solution provider. They have the ability to display the data and to have that visual interface,” she explained. “They also have very powerful data management capabilities. And then the third thing that SAS has is the ability to do both basic and advanced analytics.”
Now, more than ever before, the EDUCAUSE Core Data Service empowers IT executives at colleges and universities to demonstrate part of their value propositions in relation to what their peers are doing. When they have better access to timely and relevant data, they can use it to shape strategic decisions at every level.
“We’ve gotten very good feedback from our members,” said Grajek. “We are delivering what they want, and we also have a nice roadmap for how we want to continue to enhance the functionality and do more. We have a solution that integrates data management, powerful analytics and powerful visualization – interactive visualization – of data that our members are able to use.”