Research Suggests: Be intentional
At a time when schools are deluged with data, we struggle to navigate through the process of determining what data can help us improve, expand, or enhance, and what data will not position us to advance the institution. There is no question big data has the opportunity to hugely impact our ability to live out our respective missions, but we must be intentional about what data we collect and the process through which we analyze. To do so, simply put, requires an institutional research plan.
In simple terms, an institutional research plan is a plan outlining the alignment of resources (people, methods, time) to intentionally and strategically collect and analyze a predetermined set of data. However, when not formally planned, with all stakeholders identified and all outcomes defined and targeted, the process can become both complicated and without direction.
As your team begins to plan for the upcoming processing year, consider formalizing an institutional research plan that aligns school wide efforts to solicit and collect feedback and data. Below are examples vehicles for this type of data gathering as well as recommendations for when you would administer as part of your overall plan:
- Parent Satisfaction Survey (Biennially in the Spring) – This survey is a comprehensive approach to gathering feedback from our constituents in an effort to compare what we say we do and what our families are actually experiencing.
- New Student Lunches (Annually in the Fall) – These events provide a great forum for informal (but potentially impactful) feedback collection. Focusing on their experience thus far, new students can provide anecdotal data that either affirms or contradicts your team’s portrayal of the educational experience at your school.
- Student Surveys (Annually, Late Fall/Early Winter) - By creating a formal vehicle designed to solicit feedback regarding the student experience, your institution will be given a different lens through which to evaluate who you are, what you do, and why you matter. There exist surveys that will benchmark your school versus others. If this avenue is cost prohibitive, create your own. These are you direct customers, and their feedback is vital to long term health and sustainability.
- New Parent Survey and Focus Groups (Annually, Fall/Winter) –Create informal ways to solicit feedback and anecdotes. The uses for what your team will receive are limitless.
- Alumni Surveys (Annually to 1, 3, and 5-year milestones) – They are your outcomes, and their experiences, contributions to their respective communities, and overall life satisfaction serve as validation for your institution. Find meaningful ways to collect their feedback and to formalize their outcomes into purposeful stories and data points.
- Exit Surveys/Meetings (Annually in the Spring) – Not everyone experiences what we promise or what we hope. Regardless, creating channels for them to share feedback is important in a number of ways. Namely, it illustrates we are interested in hearing about their experiences and in learning from them. It also indicates recognition of growth opportunities as an institution. Both helpful, but the latter may reduce the amount of negative word-of-mouth in the community that follows.
- Admission Experience Surveys (Late Spring/Summer)– Take the opportunity to solicit feedback as it relates to the quality of your admission experience for those who did not complete the process.
- Declined Offer of Admission (Late Spring/Summer) – To better understand your position in the marketplace, as well as further refining the profile of those students and families your school serves, use every opportunity to collect feedback from prospective families, especially those who decline an offer of admission.
Although there are a number of vehicles and forums (in addition to or in place of the aforementioned) you can use to collect data, be sure to enter into the process with a clear vision of what you wish to do with the data. Doing so will guide the planning process and leave your team more strongly positioned to leverage the data you receive. Too often organizations simply collect data without a purpose or a plan. The result is often a degree of ambiguity that impedes the ability of your school to purposefully use the data you collect.
Enjoy the rest of your summer, but plan ahead.
Director of Enrollment Management
All Saints Episcopal School
Fort Worth, Texas