By Ryan Jockers
Those who have been involved with higher education at some point in their lives know the buzz words, they know what kind of data leadership is asking for, quoting, and releasing to the media. Credit hours, retention, headcount, and graduation rates are typically at the forefront of any university website and are the backbone for analyzing trends and activities within any educational institution. However, if those activities are not tied to any objective financial incentive, what is the motivation for individual colleges and units to perform? At the University of North Dakota (UND), we are the first institution in the state of North Dakota to implement an incentive-based allocation model, and have used iDashboards to strategically align campus data and educate campus leadership on the inner workings of our new model.
The UND Model for Incentive-based Resource Allocation (MIRA) is a decentralized approach to budget allocation. This new model assigns greater control over resource decisions to deans and directors. Revenue-generating areas are referred to as “primary units” with all or most of the institution’s revenues and support costs assigned to them. The model’s underlying premise is that the decentralized nature of the budget entrusts academic leaders with more control of financial resources, leading to more informed decision-making aligned with the “Exceptional UND” mission and vision, and better results or outcomes for UND as a whole.
Naturally, when taking on a large implementation such as this there are obstacles, most specifically bringing together silos of data that previously were never seen together, and coordinating departments that before had no reason to collaborate. For example, student credit hour data (Record and Instruction) and tuition dollar data were never looked at together in detail. Now, due to MIRA, we have been able to differentiate our credit hours in every residency category by college, and match it with tuition dollars for more efficient allocation. However, in order to overcome obstacles like these, a culture shift has to take place where unit leaders are relying on data to make decisions, and not just any data, but standardized KPIs that not only measure activity levels but are also a vehicle for value added conversations within the university. To accomplish this, we had to find a creative way to take a complicated data intensive model and make it user friendly, accessible, centralized, and verifiable. With that criteria in mind, we set out to create the UND MIRA Dashboards Suite.
In the beginning, approval for our dashboard suite drafts was very sporadic, and we received mixed feedback due to the sensitivity and incompleteness of the data. Academic planning data was not in the same area as the financial data, which created issues for unit leaders who wanted to find connections between their activity levels and allocations. After some collaboration, we came up with a suite of dashboards that has three main areas:
- Institutional Goals
The initial objective was to create an interconnected structure that allows the user to find related data in one place (e.g. tuition allocations and student credit hours), then build out from there. Following this method, we now have summary and detailed data all in one dashboard structure for areas such as student credit hours, headcount, graduation/retention, tuition, appropriations, direct revenues, indirect costs, square footage, research, support unit activity, direct expenses, faculty contracts, and teaching load.
In the MIRA Dashboards Suite, we currently have over 30 dashboards organized together in one intuitive location, and we are in the process of adding university investments, course/program fee detail, classroom utilization, pre-enrollment trends, and other related data to truly fulfill the vision of having a unified data-driven approach to budgeting in higher education. Executive, College, Auxiliary, and Support Unit leadership groups are all using these dashboards to generate discussion about current performance and future planning with excellent results. More recently, the dashboards suite was well received by the Academic Deans and used extensively for the Spring 2016 budget meetings with the VP of Academic Affairs, and VP of Finance and Operations. That being said, there is no way our team could have gotten to this point without collaborating between divisions and aligning our data in a strategic way to equip leaders within our university to make informed decisions.
The entire process so far has produced growth in many areas that was not present 2-3 years ago. College and unit leadership are starting to feel more comfortable with data, when before it would cause confusion and/or frustration due to the lack of standardization. The data analysts on campus are now able to use our dashboards for official reporting, including the MIRA Dashboards Suite, which in turn creates efficiencies and confidence that everyone is using the same data source. Lastly, for me personally, being able to align our dashboards and data with the initiatives at the University of North Dakota has been incredibly rewarding and beneficial. The next steps for us are to continue to refine, reshape and continuously improve our dashboards to align our strategic initiatives and to continue our mission of user- friendly, accessible, centralized, and verifiable dashboards.