University Business - November/December 2010 - (Page 59)
How a business intelligence system helped a small private college improve its data-driven decision-making
By Larry Goodwin
Solving the ‘It’s My Data’ Mess
EVERAL YEARS AGO THE College of St. Scholastica, a Catholic Benedictine school in Duluth, Minn., purchased a business intelligence (BI) system to improve its ability to make data-driven decisions. Along the way, we learned some important lessons that have strengthened us, and that may be of use to other institutions. A bit of background might be helpful. St. Scholastica was founded in 1912 by the Benedictine Sisters in Duluth. It was a women’s college until 1970, when it became coeducational and independent, although still sponsored by the Sisters. e school has a modest endowment and is tuition-driven. We oﬀer programs in the liberal arts and several pre-professional areas; more than half of our students major in health care ﬁelds. Over the past decade, St. Scholastica has changed considerably. We entered the education market for working adults, opened three new campuses around Minnesota, added Division III football, expanded our masters programs, added two clinical doctorates, and entered the online market. Enrollment has grown from 2,000 to 3,900; faculty and staﬀ have increased by 65 percent. We have more than doubled the number of traditional undergraduates living on the mother campus. e budget has grown from $27 million to $69 million. We anticipate more growth as we expand online programming.
ize a four-year graduation rate of 60 percent; we are currently at 53 percent and have been moving slowly but steadily in the right direction in recent years. CLARIFYING NEEDS TO MEET CHALLENGES e process of improving our KPIs caused us to look at purchasing a BI system. We had the right insight—use data to measure the eﬀectiveness of planning and budgeting—but we struggled to get clean and consistent data. Until recently, we faced the following challenges: • Departments tweaked and manipulated data to best serve their own interests. Finance might deﬁne “full-time student” in one way to meet its needs; the registrar’s oﬃce might deﬁne the term slightly diﬀerently to meet its needs. • Dozens of homegrown “datamarts” emerged, each good for parochial tactical purposes, but increasingly unable to converse with one another at the all-college and strategic level. • A mess had resulted. We had diﬀering deﬁnitions of basic terms, an inability to report historical trends, increasing use of IT time to reconcile reports and data, and a lengthening lag time for receiving important data for strategic decisions. It was in this context that we purchased a BI system. e ﬁrst lesson we learned was that selecting the right tool required us to be clear about our needs. We were after data that was reliable and accurate, dynamic, serving constituents across the institution, conveniently
Larry Goodwin has been president of e College of St. Scholastica (Minn.) since 1998. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Council of Independent Colleges.
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We had the right insight, but we struggled to get clean and consistent data.
these priorities should inform annual college goals and departmental action plans. We operate on a belief that the budget is the price tag for the plan and have gotten better at connecting everything in the plan with a budget number, and vice versa. Consequently, we began to realize the importance of data-driven assessment of results. If we committed a hundred thousand dollars to a retention initiative, did we achieve the anticipated results? If we increased our marketing budget by a half-million dollars, can we tell what difference it made? Looking at our set of aspirant institutions, what benchmarks can we establish from them and how should we strive to realize them? Several years ago, we began annually reporting important dashboard indicators to our trustees. e eﬀort to reﬁne and expand these measurements led us to establish key performance indicators (KPIs) for every goal in our strategic plan. KPIs give a snapshot of where we are, a trend line showing the direction in which we are moving, and a benchmark we are trying to achieve. For example, we want to real-
THE PLAN’S PRICE TAG ese changes are a result of ongoing strategic planning, and they have caused us to improve our planning process. We have been clear all along that mission and vision should shape strategic priorities, and
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of University Business - November/December 2010
University Business - November/December 2010
Behind the News
Models of Efficiency
An Edible Arrangement
Friend or Foe?
Sense of Place
University Business - November/December 2010