The effective use of data in community colleges can improve student engagement and outcomes, enable the analysis of workforce data, and advance institutional research, according to educational nonprofit Achieving the Dream and analytics software provider SAS. The two organizations hosted the inaugural Data and Analytics summit in Cary, N.C., last week.

The event brought together leaders from 80-plus community colleges and technical schools, and a number of analytics experts to discuss how analytics can help colleges nationwide share, analyze and visualize data, and how data can be used as a strategic asset to improve student outcomes. 

Dr. Karen A. Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream, delivered the keynote address, describing how an analytical ecosystem can position colleges to compete and serve students most effectively into the future.

“Achieving the Dream network colleges owe much of their success in strengthening student achievement to their use of data,” said Stout. “As analytics software becomes more sophisticated and easier to use, its potential to drive even more student success is skyrocketing."

Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS, emphasized how analytics can help community colleges increase the talent pool in high-demand areas such as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“There are too few students entering the STEM fields,” said Goodnight. “That includes analytics and data science. Community colleges play a key role in filling these skills gaps by adapting to employer talent needs and offering relevant curriculum.”

Tanya Scott, director of Business Analytics at Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, which offers the nation’s first associate’s degree in business analytics, also spoke during the event, discussing the success of their program and how an analytics curriculum at the community college level can prepare the workforce of the future.

As many colleges have shown, data analytics is helping them graduate more students.

The Colorado Community College System, for instance, looked at course completion and graduation data for developmental education students. Based on this data, officials decided to reduce the number of developmental classes students needed and provide extra academic support for students who scored the lowest on placement tests.

"It's really about putting students in the environment that they need to get the education support that they're looking for," Casey Sacks, project manager at the Colorado Community College System, told the Center for Digital Education in July.

Achieving the Dream is a national nonprofit focused on reforming student success in higher education. The Achieving the Dream National Reform Network includes over 200 institutions, hundred of coaches and advisors, and 15 state policy teams that work throughout 34 states and the District of Columbia to support nearly 4 million community college students.