Data Analytics: Leveraging Insights to Drive Program Innovation

By: Jonathan Preciado
Sep 8, 2017 2:45 PM ET

Data Analytics: Leveraging Insights to Drive Program Innovation

Data analytics has changed the way we view operations, performance, and student outcomes. As Southern New Hampshire University President Paul L. LeBlanc, mentions in the latest chapter of President to President, “Engineering a 21st Century Higher Educational Model:  Guidelines for Leading the Work,” understanding data can be an important step in meeting the needs and expectations of today’s students. Through Sodexo’s interactions with students, educators, and campus administrators, we have seen firsthand how analytics can change the way an institution operates. Taking this idea a step further, data analytics can enable us to design experiences in a way that will have a meaningful impact on student outcomes.  

Student retention is a national concern, as one-third of students who enter post-secondary education never earn a degree. As an organization, Sodexo believes that by improving the quality of life for individuals at a partner site, we can improve the performance of the organization. In higher education terms, this means that enhancing quality of life for students can improve an institution’s performance in terms of retention.

Given that a number of studies and theories, such as Astin’s theory of involvement, cite the importance of non-academic factors in retention, our intellectual curiosity lead us down the path of studying the impact that resident life programming could have on student satisfaction and commitment. We have done extensive research to understand the drivers of student quality of life and built a framework around six dimensions, but we needed to go a step further and quantify these dimensions in terms of student success.

Sodexo engaged Skyfactor, a leader in higher education assessment with more than 20 years of experience, to research and evaluate a variety of student services, experiences, and outcomes as they relate to student commitment and success. The initial assessment layered Sodexo’s research on quality of life with theories and research findings regarding student interaction, retention, and success.

The initial phase of the research included a sample of 1,054 college and university students. The goals of the initial phase were to test the instrument, understand the relationships, and build an initial data model. Our findings allowed us to understand how Sodexo’s services aligned to quality of life and how they impact satisfaction, commitment, and academic performance.

While the results were closely aligned to our hypothesis, it was interesting to see some new relationships and surprising findings. For instance, feelings of safety contributed to one’s commitment to continue pursuing their studies, as expected. However, we were surprised that physical spaces being easy to navigate contributed to students feeling safe. Furthermore, we found that recognition does more than just make students feel valued and believe that others care about their success – it also makes students feel that they fit in. These findings will certainly inform the development of key services on campus. For example, they will guide the decisions of our Community Ambassadors, who design programs to engage students in the community.

This fall, we will take the research a step further by integrating data on service performance. Other intelligence platforms that track facility up/down time, lifecycle of work orders, and resident life performance will be integrated to allow for a more robust, intelligent model that offers a means of predictability. These efforts underscore the importance of taking a holistic approach to predictive analytics and including data sources from multiple facets of the campus environment.

Next year, we will use the model to guide programming decisions. The plan is to take an initial assessment, identify interventions, and help our higher education partners have a meaningful impact on student success.

Our research with Skyfactor highlights the value that data analytics can bring to higher education. It allows us to work more closely with colleges and universities to design programs that drive success. Most importantly, it allows us to deliver solutions that not only enhance student quality of life, but ensure students remain committed to their studies and the attainment of a degree.

Jonathan Preciado is the lead consumer insights professional for Sodexo’s Universities segment. As part of the global offer development team, Jonathan manages research, survey and insights processes that inform solutions development for Sodexo’s clients and customers.