AWS Public Sector Blog

Leveraging data to future-proof higher education

For higher education institutions, there is a growing focus on the importance of improving the student experience, which touches on virtually everything colleges and universities do. And how can higher education institutions improve the student experience? With data.

Mark Hampton, executive education advisor for Amazon Web Services (AWS) says that many higher education leaders are looking for data to respond to opportunities to improve the student experience and address challenges like decreased undergraduate enrollment and changing student expectations. “These are extraordinarily uncertain times, and the best way to manage that is really good information,” he says. Higher education institutions are already awash with data, but many must update and transform the way they manage data and turn it into action, Hampton says.

The data dilemma

While legacy data architectures are often good for producing annual reports and responding to compliance reporting requirements, they do not often address the set of challenges most institutions face today. Institutions should shift focus, for example, to what Hampton calls “microtransactions,” or small interactions that occur throughout a student’s day on campus. This information can help to determine whether students are attending classes or in the library, or when students are logging into the learning management system (LMS) and connecting to campus Wi-Fi from different locations. These touch points can be valuable and yield insights into changing behaviors.

Turning information into insight

Aggregating what was once considered non-important, or “throwaway,” data can help institutions be more responsive to student needs and help them to be successful. Data can help to answer questions such as:

  • Does a student perform better if they meet for class once a week or three times?
  • What causes some students to fall behind?
  • Do students have the information they need to succeed?

Data can improve more than the student experience, as well. It is also an invaluable component of tracking and improving indicators of organizational efficiency. Higher education institutions can use data to identify sudden changes in business processes that may suggest larger problems, or even require adjustments in staffing.

How to get started using data to future-proof higher education

It helps to take one challenge at a time and build competencies and a business case for broader data modernization, rather than looking for the grand solution. Hampton says, “If you can solve one problem and then scale to solve others, you’re on the path to building a data solution that will solve your institutional challenges.” Also, you don’t have to necessarily replace existing systems; you can supplement them. Creating a data lake allows institutions to take advantage of structured data from existing data stores as well as new kinds of information.

To learn more about how to improve the student experience with data and the steps you and your institution can take to drive better outcomes, download the issue brief, Leveraging data to future-proof higher education.

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