Card data can refine services and identify at-risk students, but privacy concerns abound
Transaction data can help show how students are engaging with the institution and inform investments accordingly, says Blackboard’s Staples.
“Investment and program management decisions aren’t limited to typical card program capabilities – they can include everything from staffing to capital projects like facilities design and location,” Staples adds. “While card data can provide a good overview of student life outside of the classroom, matching it with academic data can provide a 360-degree view of activity to better reflect the entirety of the student experience.”
Establish a policy
The key to making card system data analytics work on campus will be open dialogues with all campus stakeholders. Establishing policies and best practices is a logical first step.
University Institutional Research Boards (IRBs) have a lot of expertise and guidance to bring. So, too, do faculty in the social sciences who regularly engage in human subject research, explains Pittinsky. “It’s important that campus stakeholders, like students and staff, are involved so they know what is being done – and not done – and why.”
Student engagement is important, and it seems like malfeasance for a university to not leverage their information systems to identify students who trigger risk indicators.
Because the use of card system data to identify at-risk students is a newer concept, having a campus policy in place is essential,” says Heartland’s Emery. “Many campuses already have policies that pertain to student data in general – how it can be used and by whom – that may be extended to campus card data.”
Use of student data of any sort, including campus card data, can be a concern to campuses as it relates to privacy and it is recommended that campuses review privacy policies to include card system data, suggests Emery. Many campuses already state that the card is the property of the campus and data may be used for internal purposes. It may be advisable to make developed policies available to students at issuance and online, and include the campus legal team to vet the use of the data.
A balancing act
The framework for data mining card systems is already being laid, but it’s likely that campuses will test the waters gradually.
Student needs and expectations continue to evolve and institutions have to adapt, says Blackboard’s Staples. “We must acknowledge the balance between using data to better the outcome for students and ensuring privacy. If data can be used to better retention and graduation rates, then students should expect their institution to do so.”
Ultimately campuses need to consider what makes sense for their institution, its students and the goals it sets for those students. “Do we have a compelling theory about behaviors or patterns that card data can reveal that has a meaningful impact on important outcomes like retention,” asks Pittinsky. “From there, stress test your data extraction, management and analysis methods for anonymity and security.”
“Don’t go fishing, and don’t throw data into a kitchen sink,” Pittinsky stresses. “Know what you are using data to indicate and make sure it’s an indicator that is worth the investment and risk.”
While privacy concerns will undoubtedly induce some level of worry, the potential benefits are no less valid.
“It’s a natural reaction to balk at the use of data to monitor students,” he says. “Then again, student engagement is important and it seems like malfeasance for a university to not leverage their information systems to identify students who trigger risk indicators.”
Not using a facility for a prolonged period that a student regularly used before indicates that individual may have disengaged, explains Pittinsky. “At many campuses, faculty and staff may not see that pattern, but software can. So that’s the challenging choice.”