The past couple of weeks, I have been so busy and been holding so many of my thoughts to myself. I’m still busy, but I really needed to get this thought out. 

Let’s talk about data.

As I reflect on how we utilized data, I think back to when Compton College hired our first manager of institutional research. That person later became the director of institutional research, then the position changed to the “director of institutional effectiveness” and now the position is the “dean of institutional effectiveness.” I share that because the position has evolved at Compton College.

Many colleges over the years have seen this type of evolution as it relates to the oversight of data at their institutions, and the availability and use of high-quality postsecondary data have improved along the way. This change represents a progression in how institutions and systems embrace data and use them to inform our future.

But we are still falling short. This is true from the federal level to the institutional level. Data collection and analysis are essential in driving federal and state policy change; and improving practices that support the success of underrepresented students at our institutions. 

I firmly believe that data should be publicly available at the course, program, and institutional level and disaggregated by race and gender. At Compton College, our data is publicly available and we have a host of dashboards on our Institutional Effectiveness website. The data is not to be used for evaluation of a faculty member’s performance but to support program improvement. 

It is critical when having data conversations, we all have access to the data. With access comes transparency and holding our institutions to account. Additionally, we must allocate time for faculty and classified professionals to have conversations about the findings and discuss ways to improve or enhance their programs. 

The needs of underrepresented students are unique and continue to evolve, which is why the use of data is so important in ensuring adequate support is in place and efforts are maximized. Data use is critical in addressing racial equity gaps and must be integrated into federal, state, and institutional systems and for policy development. Good data use and analysis increases transparency while informing policy to promote positive student outcomes. 

Federal and state systems have the responsibility of maintaining large, multi-sector data systems that display student outcomes and analyze disparities. Higher education institutions share this responsibility on a smaller scale for their respective campuses. At Compton College, we have data-sharing agreements with our local K-12 district,  California State University, Dominguez Hills, and with the County of Los Angeles for CalFresh Participation. These agreements have been helpful to deeply examine intersegmental student success between our institutions/organizations. More importantly the data-sharing agreement has been exceptionally helpful as it relates to dual enrollment (Another thought at a later time about the amount of paperwork students have to complete for dual enrollment)

As educators, we must be data-driven leaders with our efforts to improve student outcomes for underrepresented students, particularly for Black learners, as well as other historically underserved students. For example, the Black Student Experience Task Force at Northwestern University conducted a thorough review of the experiences and outcomes of Black students on its campus and used the data to inform actionable change. 

Another example, just this week, Dr. Antonio Banks, Director of Black and males of color success at Compton College, provided a presentation to the Compton Community College District Board of Trustees regarding our program and included enrollment data for our students (Which has increased). 

Please note: Dr. Banks’ position is the first of its kind in California Community Colleges. Through our dashboards, we can generate reports about the success and retention of Black students, knowing we have more work to do. However, we are addressing it through the work of Dr. Banks and our Guided Pathways success teams, understanding that supporting Black learners’ success is everyone’s job, not just one department. Institutions must continue to collect and analyze data to address Black learner needs and support their success.

Institutions can make good use of data to support Black learners by:

  • Providing access to disaggregated data on student outcomes specific to Black learners
  • Increasing transparency around affordability, costs, and return on investment
  • Analyzing institutional data to highlight disparities and inform solutions
  • Having meaningful conversations with faculty and classified professions about the data and developing action plans
  • Monitoring outcomes and evaluating programming that aims to support Black learners
  • Using data to improve educational quality and the learning experience for Black learners
  • Conducting studies that elevate the voices and needs of Black learners

In closing, data should always be a topic of discussion at our institutions. We can no longer make decisions without the data to back them up.