In the past few years, the use of big data and analytics has exploded across nearly every industry, helping decision-makers glean important insights and arm themselves to make the best choices possible for their organizations. Big data and its analysis can open the door to considerable informational patterns and knowledge, and nowhere is this pursuit more important than in higher education.

Data analytics is changing the face of colleges and universities across the country, assisting educators in learning more about the student body as well as providing the ability to predict their success. However, this process has also raised a few critical questions when it comes to informational privacy. Let’s take a look at how big data and analytics have shaped higher education, and what lies in store in the future.

Gleaning insights into the student experience

Students around a table listening to professor holding a tablet computer

Educators and administrators are leveraging big data analytics to learn more about the student experience.

One way higher education institutions are making use of the informational assets at their fingertips is to leverage this data to learn more about students, the activities they participate in and what their experiences are like. According to the Association of Governing Boards contributor Stephen Pelletier, educators’ and administrators’ work to get a better look at student life was made abundantly clear after The New York Times published a piece detailing the process called, “Blowing off Class? We Know.

As Pelletier pointed out, though, big data can reveal a lot more than whether or not a particular individual attended class that day.

“Using technology to map student activities and practices online, in classrooms, and even at extracurricular events, some colleges and universities today know a lot more about students than just whether they skipped class,” Pelletier wrote. “Technology makes it possible to collect and analyze rafts of details about student performance and behavior.”

What’s more, university staff members aren’t just using these details to relive their own glory days. In fact, analytics results are being put to considerably good use, including to pinpoint students who might be struggling, providing an opportunity to help get these pupils back on the path to success.

In addition, the use of big data isn’t just focused on students: Analytics that examine historical data related to grading, assignments and students’ work can speak volumes about administrator’s’ performance as well.

Actionable insights: Shifting from past to future

While these processes are hopeful and exciting, Pelletier noted that there is still work to be done – namely, shifting the focus so that analytics results not only provide a map of the past, but can be used for future pursuits as well.

“The ladder starts with descriptive analytics, which describe what happened, and then progresses to diagnostic analytics, which tell why it happened,” Pelletier wrote. “The next level, predictive analytics, suggest what will happen and offers insights into how we can make it happen?”

The process of predictive analytics is currently making waves in the higher education sector, and it’s being utilized by more administrators in several institutions across the country, University Business contributor Sandra Beckwith noted. These initiatives are also being leveraged in a variety of different ways, including to drive up student retention rates and help shine the spotlight on student employment opportunities.

“The process of predictive analytics is currently making waves in the higher education sector.”

At Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, predictive analytics resulted in an important finding: Analysts discovered that students who held jobs on campus helped benefit overall retention rates. Thanks to this important insight, administrators worked to improve participation in the Federal Work-Study Program while also creating new employment positions for students.

“Employment on campus should always be a learning experience for students and an opportunity to gain new skills to expand academic critical thinking and workforce skills,” noted Elaine Lewis, director of Washburn’s Center for Student Success and Retention.

It is this progression to more forward-looking analytics-based insights that will hold the key to big data usage in higher education in the future. Experts, including Gartner analysts, predict that this path to analytics-supported foresight will become more crucial in this sector over the next few years.

Answering the important questions: Data privacy

While big data and analytics is now being utilized to create a path for success for both students and educators, these processes have raised a few concerns about how sensitive information is treated. A SchoolBoard piece published by Forbes pointed out that as more student data is moved to cloud environments for analysis, administrators must work to ensure that privacy is observed throughout the process.

In this spirit, SchoolBoard predicts that more attention will be paid by university leaders and policymakers in particular to ensure that students’ privacy is respected and standards for compliance are set.

“State regulators and auditors will begin to clarify some basic compliance standards for data collection, management, security, interoperability, privacy, and more,” SchoolBoard wrote for Forbes. “These new rules are a welcome sign that education technology and data is truly coming of age.”

To find out more about the future of big data analytics in higher education, contact the experts at Aunalytics today.