Folks…listen up. Every time I hear “data-driven” …especially data-driven decision-making in our profession, I cringe a bit. Allow me to explain.
Are we really driven by data? I typed in an address in my GPS the other day and (like I often do) blindly followed the directions to my son’s hockey game. But as I drove taking turns and more turns, something didn’t feel right. I sort of knew where the rink was, but it didn’t feel like we were going the right way. Turns out, I was right. We went off track and we were late. Points off for dad for being, literally, data driven. You might say I had the wrong search engine in my car's GPS, (FYI I was driving a Prius) or had the wrong algorithm, but bottom line is I discarded my judgement and discretion, and I paid for it. Silly example, I know, but if you’ve ever gone on a GPS adventure, you can relate.
If we, as admission professionals, are driven by data, especially around decision making, I wonder if robots should just start making decisions for us right now? Wait, don’t spread that idea! And before I am misquoted or misunderstood (out of context) I hereby propose that we, admission professionals, not ignore data, but use the term data-guided. I had fun with colleagues the other day saying admission professionals should trademark this term for our profession, because while working with people, kids in fact, judgement & discretion are key whereas over-reliance on data should be acknowledged as possible.
I argue that there is a sliding scale here. The less professional the user-of-data (in any profession I suppose) the more they have to fall back on the data to make decisions. Some call that the cover your assets (CYA) decision-making formula...at least that’s the translation of “CYA” to my 10-year-old. I argue that the more professional (and thereby confident…. through education, training, and experience) the admission person, the more they are able to be simply guided by data. It’s not as if this isn’t somewhat intuitive, but honestly, I found myself comfortably using the term data-driven decision making, until now.
With the exciting, but daunting, responsibility of “directing” AISAP’s Center for Admission & Enrollment Management Leadership, I have to question some of the terms and labels we use or have used. We lead and direct this profession, our schools, and the families considering our schools. I hope we all want it to be a profession where (human) discretion, judgment, context and yes, even some intuition, help us make decisions. So, the next time you wonder where the heck your GPS is taking you, think of it as a guidance positioning system and please do the same in your admission work when it comes to data. In terms of guidance, remember that AISAP champions the professionals who lead!
About Ray Diffley
Director of AISAP's Center for Admission
and Enrollment Management Leadership