Using Data to Craft & Tell Your Story | Chapter 1: Organize

The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight.” C. Fiorani

This is our first blog in our 4-part series on Best Practices for Year End. If you think of your school year as a book, these four chapters will help you measure, manage, and message the success of your school’s financial aid program and its story for the season and how it supported admission and enrollment for the upcoming school year.

As you work through these four chapters, your school’s financial aid story begins. By the conclusion, you will have a detailed story capturing the season in data. The story will also reveal where you missed data points that can be used for the next year, as well as data points that provide insight into your overall financial aid profile.

Every school has a successful story to tell and gathering, quantifying, and understanding data is a key part of your story’s development. Good data drives good decision-making and builds insight for the future. It also helps drive new admissions, new funding, and new financial aid opportunities.

Chapter one: Organize your data

Think of this as the opening chapter of your powerful school story, and the key to its success is organizing all the information associated with your applicant family profiles. This is where you will revisit and check your numbers and all details related to them. Just as an author would have the most compelling and accessible themes and characters in the first chapter, you are doing the same thing with your applicant information.

A well-known axiom with database systems is that results are only as good as the data input. To that end the first stage of your best year to year end data strategy is to do a tactical cleanup of your data. While librarians are boxing up books, students are cleaning out lockers, you can be streamlining your data to guide you forward for the next financial aid season.

Clearing up your data also helps you ensure your records and student folders are consistent, complete, and clean for maximum data analysis.

Here are some key questions to ask at the organize data stage:

  • If there are key pieces of data we track that are collected somewhere besides your financial aid system, are they entered into our database?
  • Is all the financial aid information stored and accounted for? Has all data been input from all the financial aid forms?
  • Did we record each applicant’s final status at the end of the FA process, like award decision and admission/enrollment status?
  • Does our data include each individual student’s data who applied for FA at our school? This would include data for students who did not complete the FA process.

It’s important to also be able to account for how you spent your time and budget relevant to different segments of your applicant pool. This also helps you gain a fuller picture of your applicants and their families to understand why or why not they were able to finish the entire financial aid process.

Understanding different segments of your applicant pool can give you key insights, including:

  • Families who did not complete the application process and if they have a different profile than those who did.
  • Families who withdrew an application after submitting it to your school and if/why that may be a data trend.
  • Potential opportunities for applicants that might be missing from your data completely and how to target that segment/zip code/etc. next year for more recruitment.

The full story of your students will help you define who your applicants and families are. What can be learned from the story including: demographics, new or missed opportunities, successes, and new grant/funding targets. By streamlining and ensuring your numbers are up-to-date, you are also able to see if you need to revise or define your awards/allocations as well.

All these results gathered can be highly valuable additions to any qualitative story you tell your key stakeholders. What are emerging themes in the story you’re able to tell about your school and its initiatives?

Does your data meet your school’s mission, enrollment goals, and FA program goals? Does it represent your target profile for students? Does your data represent diversity and students achieving success because of the financial aid they were awarded? Is there more you can do with your financial aid process to reduce duplicating entries and to ensure you’re able to able to pull the data easily into reports for funders, stakeholders, and key administrators?

While you’re off on your data organizing and streamlining, we’re here to support you through each chapter, and so we’ll be posting on the second chapter soon.

Meanwhile, we want to make sure you knew about this guide for Best Practices for Year End. You can download your free copy here.

SSS is a cloud-based, complete financial aid solution that helps schools to keep up with today’s economic realities by collecting the data they need with a time-tested, fair and equitable approach to reach the families who most need help—interested in learning more? Contact us today.

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