What is a Data Ready, Able, and Willing University? 

Colleges and universities have made huge strides in evolving to meet the digital age. At the same time, many colleges still have a lot of work to do to fully take advantage of what technology offers, especially AI. Having the right data infrastructure and data culture is necessary to take advantage of AI.  

Institutions need to be data ready, data able, and data willing to thrive in the AI age. Not being data ready, able, and willing can make it much more challenging to take advantage of what AI can bring to an institution. This post will cover what a data ready, able, and willing university looks like. That way leaders can make changes to use AI and technology effectively.  

The Reality of Challenges

It would be incredibly tone deaf to state all the things colleges need to do to be data ready, able, and willing without recognizing the systemic challenges that impede this. It is no secret that most colleges and universities struggle to prioritize digital transformation due to financial constraints. State and federal funding is often insufficient for investing in data and technology needs while making ends meet. Earning grants is time consuming and unreliable. And the cost of data and technology transformation is not insignificant.  

Colleges and universities also have competing priorities: raising enrollment, retaining students, increasing rankings, and more. And for systemically underfunded institutions like Minority Serving Institutions or community colleges, investing in digital and technological change can be even more challenging.  

These challenges are real. At the same time, there are always things that are within a college’s control that can help with becoming a data ready, able, and willing institution.  

What Makes a Data Ready University?

The foundation of a data-driven university is being data-ready. This means having the infrastructure and practices in place to effectively collect, manage, and utilize data. 

A data ready university should have robust data collection, a data lake or warehouse, wide technology usage, and be maximizing its data potential. A university should have systems for gathering a wide range of relevant data. This could include traditional student information and more innovative sources like student behaviors or alumni data. 

Having a data lake, or a central repository for all data collected in its raw format, is also important. This allows for flexibility in future analysis without limitations imposed by pre-defined structures. It can also make it easier to connect to solutions in the future.  

Data and technology systems should also be widely used across the university to be data ready. The majority of faculty, staff, and administrators should be comfortable using these systems, like using an LMS beyond just grading, to ensure data is entered accurately and consistently. This also ensures that new and existing solutions do not become shelfware.  

Finally, a data-ready university doesn’t just collect data – it actively uses it! Is your university using data to identify trends, improve processes, or personalize the learning experience? Actively using data to make decisions is a strong indication that a university is data ready.  

What is a Data Able University?

If a university is data ready, is it also data able? Being data able is a little bit different, but just as important as being data ready. Taking the next step from data-ready to data-able requires strategic investments in resources and policies. This includes things like having a data storage infrastructure, data governance policies, and technical staff capacity.  

Having a centralized location streamlines data access and analysis for authorized users across the university. A college’s data warehouse should be commonly used across the university in a central location.  

Data governance cannot go unmentioned. Having a well-defined data governance policy that establishes guidelines for data ownership, access, security, and sharing is essential. It clarifies what data can be shared with external vendors or partners, ensuring responsible data management. 

Finally, a data ready university needs to have personnel with the technical skills and time capacity to manage data and technology needs. Without these key personnel, it can be challenging to implement solutions effectively.

What is a Data Willing University?

A data willing university is a university that, in essence, has a culture that values data. At a data willing university, data is valued and decisions are data informed. Data is not only collected, but also analyzed and used to take action. A data willing university is also open minded—it values change and growth in the name of supporting students. If that means changing advising procedures to better support students, staff welcome the change, even if its challenging. If that means reflecting on how a university can do their job better, university leadership is open to facing shortcomings head on.  

A culture where phrases like “this is how we have always done things” is common is unlikely to be a data willing culture. This fixed mindset is closed to innovative growth. Transformation is certainly challenging and time consuming, but ultimately it is meant to help achieve the mission of helping students meet their goals.  

Why Being Data Ready, Able, and Willing is Important

Many solutions are out there, but colleges and universities are often not fully ready to implement them. They may also not be in a place where a solution can be used to its full potential.  

Being data ready, able, and willing is important for student success. This is because technology and AI are important foundations for the work a university does to guide a student through their educational experience. While the work that needs to be done to be optimized to use AI and technology is tedious, it is important to be able to adopt solutions more easily and use them to their full potential.  

When colleges are data ready, able, and willing, they have the potential to easily adopt new solutions that can help them meet their mission.

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