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How a VPEM drove progress toward a data-informed campus

5 Questions with Eric Sykes of Elmira College

October 16, 2023 , By Devin Jones, Strategic Leader, Edify Partner Services

As a Strategic Leader with EAB’s Edify, I have the opportunity to work closely with our partners in furthering their data and analytics goals. One recent example of this collaboration comes from Eric Sykes, Vice President of Enrollment Management at Elmira College, who has been championing data management and governance efforts on his campus. I spoke with Mr. Sykes about how Elmira College created more reliable enrollment reports and built a data-driven campus culture. Here are some highlights from our conversation.

Watch a recording of our full conversation with Mr. Sykes

4 enrollment reporting takeaways

  1. A single source of truth is a critical first step toward trustworthy, accessible enrollment reports and dashboards
  2. Filtering data by key variables allows you to identify nuanced persistence and graduation issues
  3. Share access to data with members outside the enrollment team to gain further insight
  4. Access to trustworthy data facilitates more advanced applications of analytics, such as predictive modeling for future class enrollment

“I knew we needed a better solution.”

1. What motivated you to look for ways to improve Elmira’s data culture?

In one of my first admissions and enrollment meetings as a senior officer at Elmira, the Registrar provided us with an enrollment report with very little information in it other than the number of registered students. That’s all we had as we marched toward our census date of October 1st. When the census data came, high-level administrators at the institution huddled over spreadsheets trying to figure out exactly what the right numbers were to share with the college’s board and our national reporting agencies. It took an hour and a half to figure out who was and who wasn’t enrolled, as a lot of our data was held in separate spreadsheets and wasn’t tracked consistently.

I knew we needed a better solution. That’s what brought us to Edify, which allowed us to build the single source of truth we needed. We could unify different data sources, including our Student Information System (SIS), admissions CRM, and financial aid data. Those systems are very disparate; it typically requires multiple reports to bring all that data together. So, the ability to report from a single source of truth was very important to us.

From there, we felt a clear sense of momentum around reporting. We were able to get much more granular data and better understand what was influencing persistence rates. We looked at variables like athletics, gender, choice of major, and how majors were shifting and changing. We also gained an understanding of our CRM at the admissions level—infrequent CRM users could see how we were doing year over year with enrolling students.

“We could see issues around persistence to graduation that we’d never had insight into before.”

2. Once you had your data wrangled, how did you get it out to your colleagues?

We needed a visual, functional way to get data to the end users who rely on it. So we worked with our team at EAB to create a Strategic Enrollment Management (SEM) dashboard, which is specifically set up for Elmira College and the unique way we use our SIS.

Seeing the data displayed in the SEM dashboards gave us insight into where things were clearly not being handled in a standardized way and where things had changed year over year. It allowed us to make corrections and identify places where we had to go back and do a data cleanup.

Learn to improve data adoption among colleagues on campus

Most importantly, it gave us access to the available data, which let us move from a descriptive understanding of the situation into a more proactive look at the nuances in the data. For enrollment, by examining and filtering variables and choosing selections based on division, gender, and ethnicity, we could see issues around persistence to graduation that we’d never had insight into before.

“We’re excited for senior officers and trustees to see up-to-date data.”

3. This sounds like a project that benefited your colleagues from across the entire campus–who were some of the main beneficiaries of your work?

As our confidence grows around the data, we’ve been able to share the enrollment dashboard outside of the immediate team. That includes the president, most vice presidents, and the CFO, who’s very interested in building a finance dashboard to reference as he talks to trustees. Sharing this data with a wider team is the point, and we’re excited for senior officers and trustees to see up-to-date data.

It also allowed our small but mighty IT and IR staff to take a deep breath and resolve some of their own data issues. We brought in a new IT team and they’re very strong in their understanding of the data systems on campus. However, they needed some help understanding the specifics of higher ed data, so we partnered them with our IR team. The two teams worked together to identify data inconsistencies and structure our systems more coherently for our specific needs.

Get more advice on creating a data-informed campus

“Our hour-and-a-half meeting of poring over spreadsheets turned into a 15-minute summary.”

4. What has been the biggest win since you made these changes?

Our first real victory came in the winter of 2023, when I compared data from the dashboard against our weekly reports from the Registrar’s office. While they were trending in similar directions, they were not necessarily in lockstep. During the census report meeting, it became very clear that the reports coming out of the Registrar’s office, which they were doing essentially by hand, were not the single source of truth that we needed. Certain students had withdrawn or had registered that weren’t counted in their data correctly. Ultimately, in almost every case, it became an issue where they needed to make corrections, whereas our new reports were accurate.

Our hour-and-a-half meeting of poring over spreadsheets turned into a 15-minute summary that consisted mostly of identifying where the Registrar needed to make changes in their data. We were confident in the dashboard data and were able to share that data with the senior officers and the board in short order.  And this victory gave us the ability to invest and transition to Rapid Insight. We use Rapid Insight’s data analytics tools to understand and predict our enrollment and retention. We can now identify opportunities in the marketplace that we would otherwise not have the time to do.

“It was important for us to create a data warehouse specific to our needs.”

5. What are you working on now? And what is the next project that Elmira hopes to accomplish?

We’re focusing on point-in-time snapshotting and loading that data into our dashboard. We want to understand where we are at a particular point in time and where we’re likely to land based on those particular data points. The first steps were identifying what information we wanted to capture, then determining the specific fields we need. From there, we had to select specific points in time when we would want to capture that data.

This is going to be useful because Elmira has a unique term structure—we have a full fall term, a full winter term, and a short spring term that allows for more in-depth student experiences, including study abroad opportunities. It was important for us to create a data warehouse specific to our needs and specifically identify those fields that would be best predictors for whether a student was going to return from one semester to the next. We’re looking forward to this next phase of our work.

Building a Data-Informed Campus

As Elmira’s story demonstrates, making improvements to reporting and analytics in one department can have unanticipated benefits across the entire institution. It’s one step toward building a truly data-informed campus, which is something I help our partners with in varied ways every day.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Edify and EAB can help your campus find data and analytics success, click here to speak with an expert. We look forward to hearing from you!

Devin Jones

Devin Jones

Devin Jones joined EAB in 2022 as a Strategic Leader for Data and Analytics. As a member of the Edify team, Devin collaborates with partners on change management strategies, assisting campus leaders to make the most of their institutions’ data and analytics strategy.

Before joining EAB, Devin served as a student affairs officer at multiple colleges and universities working in Residence Life, Orientation/FYE, and Academic Advising. In his free time, Devin enjoys playing the guitar, cooking, and hiking.

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