Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

President's Message: CPE using advanced data tool to assess academic programs

June 02, 2021

Aaron Thompson

If you've been paying attention to higher education trends over the last decade, you're probably familiar with the term "data analytics." In a nutshell, data analytics is the practice of using student data to optimize learning outcomes and increase efficiency.

Even if you don't understand exactly what it is, there's a good chance you've encountered it in your daily life. Have you ever wondered how Amazon is so good at predicting what you should watch or read next? First, Amazon combs through all of its available data (such as your purchases, product reviews, browsing history and demographics) to paint a picture of you as a customer. Then, it looks at the preferences and purchases of similar customers to recommend products you might enjoy.

When CPE set out to improve its process for reviewing academic programs at public institutions (a key statutory responsibility), we turned to Gray Associates, a data analytics firm, for help. For years, we've used straightforward productivity measures, like enrollment and degrees conferred, to guide our assessment of academic programs. But these metrics, though invaluable, don't provide a full understanding of market demand and cost.

For example, when deciding whether to recommend changes to a degree program, it helps to know if graduates are landing jobs. Understanding supply and demand in the workforce, and how the program contributes to a school's bottom line, may not be the most important factors to consider, but they can be helpful when deciding whether to grow or phase out a program.

Over the last year and a half, Gray Associates worked with CPE and campuses to get a better handle on these elusive metrics. Gray compiled thousands of program inquiries and Google searches to improve our understanding of student interest. They mined data from hundreds of sources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Burning Glass and IPEDS to rate employer demand, capture hiring trends, and identify similar programs in the marketplace. The result is a user-friendly analysis that synthesizes more than 50 variables related to demand, market competitors and cost.

Moving forward, CPE will integrate these data into an enhanced annual program review process, which goes to our board for approval later this month. This process will provide greater opportunities for joint or collaborative programs statewide. Not only will it assist policy makers at CPE, it will help campuses pinpoint opportunities for increased efficiencies and future growth.

I frequently call for innovation within the higher education sector so we can evolve to meet the needs of students and employers. Our novel approach to program review is just one example of an innovation that will strengthen postsecondary programs and improve outcomes for students and employers alike.

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Aaron Thompson, Ph.D.

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Last Updated: 7/26/2021