Our campus has been focusing on retention for the last year, and so I threw my hat in the ring to try to figure out how I could merge our campus needs with some training in this area in terms of data analysis. The Association for Institutional Research’s Data & Decisions Academy fit the bill.
I just finished the Foundations course, and it was well worth it! The courses I’ve been taking in the Penn State World Campus Institutional Research certificate sequence have been great – but are more on the level of theory and more complex analyses like regression. I needed to go back a few steps and pick up some of the nuts and bolts, and this first course really provided. From retention studies to success, persistence, and graduation rates, the initial foundations course was a good blend of video tutorials and background information. The course projects were very relevant and useful.
I was able to finish in the 7-week time frame and felt ready to try this on our own data. At about the same time, I made the trip to our main campus to get the initial workshops on our data warehouse/Microsoft Access queries workshop. I had had this all before many years ago when I worked at another campus, but I was glad for the review! So by the time I finished all of this, I was eager to get started! Getting a query right is like figuring out a puzzle, or playing a good game.
For a retention study, the challenge in the data warehouse is placing the right fields in the query to get the initial cohort just right. If this isn’t right, the rest of the retention analysis will be wrong. I have limited access to data in the warehouse, but I decided to get started nonetheless and hope that if I can show some promise in the analysis, that the powers-that-be will grant me additional access to the data needed to complete the project.
Having access to retention figures, I could work backwards, tweaking the fields and criteria in the query until I could match both the count and retention rate for a cohort. I then felt reasonably sure that I had it right to proceed. I would love to have a local data users group together – I tried to do this in the fall, but couldn’t pull it off. I’ll keep trying – It would be so much better to have a learning community where we are all learning and helping the campus – so much more helpful and enjoyable to work that way than solo!
It felt great to be able to start looking at the data – who continued…who didn’t…were there any traits for either group that stood out? I just loved working with it and really longed to have more access to really get a look at a more complete picture… I’ll keep trying