Florida Conference Focuses on Use of Data
Colleges Implored to Create Culture that Embraces and Applies Analytics
College administrators and faculty need to create a nimble and responsive organizational culture that embraces ways to use data to increase student achievement.
That was one of the central themes emerging from the Moving the Needle conference held last month at St. Petersburg College. More that 150 attendees from 26 colleges and universities attended the conference, which brought together college and university leaders from across the country to collaborate on best practices for using data to increase student success rates.
St. Petersburg College (SPC), the oldest state college in Florida, is helping college administrators frame the conversation about the use of data. The college has seen great progress in recent years by employing real-time data to drive decision-making on issues critical to student success. This includes a double-digit increase in first-timein-college African American students successfully completing courses and a 15.8 percent increase in success rates for Hispanic and Latino male students.
“A big piece of the conference was about creating a culture where college officials and faculty embrace ways they can use data to help increase student achievement,” said conference organizer Jesse Coraggio, associate vice president of institutional effectiveness, research and grants at SPC.
SPC President Bill Law, a selfproclaimed “data guy,” opened the summit by emphasizing the importance of systematically using data to improve student success rates. He described the business intelligence data that SPC administrators receive each morning that allow them to monitor what is or is not working and how the college can better serve students each day.
Law also talked about the The College Experience, the college’s widely praised initiative that monitors data in five key areas. The data allows administrators to track students’ actions to help them finish what they start, and is analyzed in weekly webinars meetings that are open to all SPC staff.
The College Experience is attracting attention from colleges around the United States. Even before traveling to Florida for the conference, Diane Snyder, vice chancellor of Alamo Colleges, was familiar with the student success initiative and had even listened in on some of SPC’s weekly morning meetings remotely.
Along with several other administrators from Alamo Colleges, Snyder decided to attend the conference because her institution does not yet have a business intelligence or significant data warehouse and she said that they are trying to free up some funds to do more work in this area.
Attendees traveled from as far as Texas and Wisconsin, and included representatives from the Community College Research Center and Achieving the Dream National Reform Network.
The event’s keynote presentation was given by Mark David Milliron, chief learning officer at Civitas Learning. Milliron was the founding chancellor of Western Governors University, Texas, and also served as deputy director for postsecondary improvement with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Milliron spoke about leveraging design thinking and advancing analytics for education. He said he was excited that St. Petersburg College was catalyzing this kind of conversation. Today’s greatest challenge, he said, is the need to help many more students succeed and get students more engaged in their own educations.
“Thirty years ago, we only needed some students to be educated at the highest level. Now we need most students to have some kind of post-secondary education,” said Milliron, emphasizing the need for tough-mindedness and the use of creativity in how institutions approach this challenge.
“There are millions of students on that pathway who want to use this as an opportunity to change their lives,” Milliron said. “There are students in our midst who have made huge, life-changing decisions to be on this pathway. It is worth every bit of our effort to bring that tough-mindedness and creativity to help them succeed.”