Imagine this scenario: Three years ago, you started in a leadership position at a large multi-campus community college recently placed on probation by its accrediting agency. You have several issues to address, but there’s a central challenge. In the last 10 years, there has not been a comprehensive review of the mission, and you have no key performance indicators through which you can monitor progress on institutional priorities.
While you have a strategic plan, it is not data-informed and lacks structures for accountability. Further, while the strategic plan sets relatively high-level goals, there’s no operational planning process to support success.
And for data? Reports run against your operational database and you are lagging behind best practices in business intelligence. You participate in national benchmarking efforts such as the American Association of Community Colleges’ Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA) and the Community College Survey of Student Engagement, but those data are not embedded into college effectiveness systems. What do you do?
This was the challenge facing Arizona’s Pima Community College in 2014. We needed to carry out a comprehensive review of the mission, establish meaningful mission key performance indicators (KPIs), establish a strategic and operational planning process, use national benchmarking data to drive improvement, and update data and analytic approaches to meet leading practices in the country.
Today, we have completed these items, and our mission and planning landscape looks very different.
As a college emerging from a challenging period, aligning institutional efforts with the mission of the college was a critical first step. Therefore, starting in summer 2014, we embarked on a comprehensive review of the mission. We took multiple steps to ensure engagement of internal and external stakeholders. The process included many open discussions across each major college site, public events to gather input from the community and review and approval by our governing board.
It was a long and detailed process. There were challenges along the way and setbacks were encountered. Ultimately, however, the process yielded a comprehensively reviewed mission fulfillment framework that included KPIs from both national systems and local measures.
At the same time, we initiated two other key activities: Pima established an operational effectiveness and planning process, and we engaged with a business intelligence consultant to establish a data warehouse. Both projects were large in scope.
To establish an operational effectiveness and planning system, first we had to identify operational units across the college, and work with those areas to identify mission statements, objectives, plan strategies and unit KPIs. This has been a gradual process starting with district-wide offices in 2015–2016 and expanding to the campuses and academic divisions in 2016-2017 in tandem with a reorganization of the administrative structure of the college. Participation is improving, as an understanding of the goals of the process increases.
Within the business intelligence initiative, using an external consultant enabled the college to progress to a fully functioning student success warehouse, including interactive reports providing enrollment and outcomes data accessible through a secure report platform, all within 18 months.
A central focus in the warehouse development was the VFA metrics. Through the interactive reports, different academic divisions can drill down into the VFA data from the overarching mission level to metrics by program. This ensures the mission KPIs are meaningful, relate to individual programs, and are easily accessible to all employees.