"Using Data to Inform Strategic Planning"

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December 2007

On December 3, 2007, the Quality Advocates Network met to hear Nancy L. Eaton, Dean of University Libraries and Scholarly Communications and Madlyn L. Hanes, Chancellor, Penn State Harrisburg discuss using data to inform strategic planning. Michael Dooris, Director of Planning Research and Assessment, Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment, moderated the session. (View presentation materials for Eaton and Hanes.)

Dooris opened the session by pointing to the current strategic planning going on throughout the University. Penn State has a decentralized approach to planning and decision-making and thus, data and information are needed to support planning efforts which occur at all levels, including budget units, departments, and programs.

What types of data are being collected?

Madlyn HanesCapital College relies on multiple data sources. One source is other plans, including the college master plan, integrated planning and the diversity plan. At the unit-level, accreditation reviews provide program specific data such as alumni, employer, and placement information. The college also conducts situation analysis by monitoring trends in student demographics (such as high school graduation rates), business, industry and economic forces (such as job and workforce declines), and changes in higher education. The college benchmarks with its peers on its academic status through such factors as degree portfolio, graduate enrollment, and accreditation holdings. Other areas of interest include admissions information, such as yield rates and first and second choice applicants; enrollment information, including the student mix of such groups as undergraduates and graduates and international students; and, retention and graduation rates, especially for subgroups of students.

Integrated planning … grounds every piece of data together if you are at a campus and have facilities … You can’t just decide without a context that you need fourteen more buildings or fifteen more programs. Data actually keeps you smart.

Madlyn Hanes
Sources of data that are external to the college include the Noel/Levitz Student Satisfaction Inventory, the National Survey of Student Engagement, the PA Department of Education, State System of Higher Education Fact Books, and the PA Center for Workforce Information Analysis. In addition to the Data Warehouse, the college also relies on internal University sources such as the Admissions intranet site, Career Services, the Fact Book, and the Student Satisfaction Survey and internal college sources such as accreditation reviews, alumni surveys, climate assessments, and market studies.ially for subgroups of students.

Nancy EatonThe University Libraries collects data through a variety of methods. These include benchmarking, collecting environmental analysis, focus groups, interviews, and surveys. External sources, such as the LibQUAL survey, a national survey developed by research institutions, and studies by the OCLC, an international network of libraries, provide data for benchmarking and forecasting trends. Internal sources include a Pulse survey on student use of library resources, a marketing study conducted with the help of business students, and internal collection and service statistics.

How do data support strategic planning?

At both Penn State Harrisburg and the University Libraries, various groups are involved in strategic planning and collect and analyze data for decision-making.

The more we know about our admissions profile, the better we can manage enrollment and meet the educational needs of our students. And we have become quite attentive to the mix of students we serve. Our student ratio of undergraduate to grad, full-time/part-time, in-state/out-of-state, have a significant impact on our facilities use, course scheduling, and cocurricular planning and we have been quick to realize that certain ratios are much more desirable than others in helping us to achieve greater efficiencies…

Madlyn Hanes

At Capital College, the Strategic Planning Steering Committee (SPSC) oversees the accountability, assessment and planning efforts of the college. The SPSC has wide representation from administrative and academic leadership and meets regularly for both plan development and implementation. It provides feedback and offers input to units on their planning. The SPSC is linked to the Faculty Senate Strategic Planning Committee at the college level. Most planning occurs at the administrative and academic unit level and initiatives for the college strategic plan are extracted from the unit level plans. The SPSC has several working groups. One is the Data Resource Group which oversees a situation analysis, reviews data needs, monitors the performance indicators, and interprets and shares data. Cross-functional teams review the mission, vision, and diversity goals of the college and unit-level committees work on the implementation of the strategic plan. Another working group is the Futures Group, which is a “think tank” for innovation. This group has recently looked into the creation of a virtual college modeled after learning communities, and one project developed included interdisciplinary courses which emphasized the Susquehanna River.

At the University Libraries, strategic planning is used to assess the environment in order to determine a road map for the future, how resources will be allocated and what progress is being made. The Libraries make a distinction between the strategic plan and tactical plans; the strategic plan looks at the big issues across the University Libraries while the tactics vary from department to department and are more open to change. Staff and faculty at the Libraries use data to make objective evaluations, identify priorities, and provide feedback and much of the data collected relates back to one of the Libraries five strategic goals.

The world is changing very fast. And, where we used to think that we knew what people needed based on experiential evidence, that’s not adequate anymore. Nor is it persuasive when you are fighting for resources. Both in terms of how to keep up with the pace of change and how to make the arguments that we need to make, this approach is absolutely necessary.

Nancy Eaton
Eaton discussed a number of cases in which the Libraries used data in its planning and decision-making. As one example, Eaton cited the use of technology in learning. The University had made this a priority and had provided funding for technology classroom space, but not much for support services. Media Technology Support Services collected longitudinal data on the number of new technology classrooms and the number of cart-accessible technology classrooms compared to the number of technicians to show that the staff levels had not kept up with the demand for rooms. The Libraries received two new positions based on this data. Based on a Pulse survey of students, the Libraries found that almost 70 percent of students had a librarian come into their classroom, but that most of this experience occurred in the first year. This informed the Libraries that they needed to place more emphasis on reaching upper-level students.

Environmental scanning data from a national survey and information garnered from the internal Pulse survey have shown that students trust the information they receive from the University Libraries, but they prefer to use Internet search engines because of the speed and efficiency. From this, the Libraries recognize that they will have to improve their delivery system to make it easier to use. In fact, the Libraries are now providing reference services through Facebook because the social networking aspect is one system students favor.

A marketing survey conducted by MBA students found that library patrons weren’t comfortable with the facilities in the first floor of the Pattee/Paterno Libraries. Many undergraduates found it cold, hard and non-welcoming and they wanted more activity upon entry. Students were more likely to favor soft furniture, plants, and lots of light. These findings are driving not only strategic planning, but the capital campaign.

Agroups a result, the Libraries included the redesign of this area, to create a more welcoming “knowledge commons,” among the goals for the upcoming capital campaign. In addition to the data collected and analyzed by the individual units, both Eaton and Hanes see that opportunities exist for greater coordination of data collection at the University level. Hanes felt that some determination should be made of the questions which colleges and campuses keep asking themselves, and that, rather than reinventing the wheel each time on an individual basis, central coordination and collection of data collection to address these questions might be a more effective process. For instance, many programs face the same questions from their accreditation organizations. Identifying these questions and answering them in a coordinated manner across the University could save resources. Eaton pointed to two success stories, the current Data Warehouse and the new development system which has integrated administrative and development stewardship data.

The Quality Advocates Network meets several times each semester to share ideas and examples of improvement and change. To join the Quality Advocates Network mailing list or to learn more about the meetings scheduled, contact the staff at psupia@psu.edu.

The Quality Advocates Network is open to all Penn State faculty, staff, administrators, and students.