Before starting my consulting practice, I was Director of Institutional Research & Assessment at Berklee College of Music, and Director of University Planning & Research for the Johnson & Wales University System.  Prior to my doctoral program in Social Psychology, I was a Certified School Psychologist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, where I gained K-12 experience.  People appreciate that I was a working manager.  I needed to be pragmatic and resourceful, and collaborate institution-wide with senior management and front line people alike.

Here are some questions that I am asked …

Why did you start a consulting business?

I want to cover more institutions, to help more institutions develop.  Those who reach out to consultants feel the readiness to develop.  

Who are your clients?

My client base is colleges and universities, as well as consulting firms and educational organizations.  

How did you become interested in research, assessment and reporting for institutional effectiveness?

Early in my higher education career, I was faced with issues that other institutions encountered later.  My first marching order was to redistribute financial aid to increase enrollment.  In so doing, I identified applicant profiles that had high enrollment rates and low persistence rates.  My academic index, “Applicant Rank”, forecasted of year-to-year persistence to graduation.  My research investigations showed that Applicant Rank, which was based on academic preparation, was correlated with ability to pay, academic commitment, student learning, student loan default, and return on investment (employment and salary).  We made predictions at the time of application for admission.  Early forecasting is truly Early Alert.  

Systematically evolving over time was a coherent data based body of knowledge that informed endeavors throughout the institution, including one endeavor’s impact on other endeavors.  It informed strategic plans and tactics, policy and decision-making, and ultimately strategic direction.  Implications for institutional finances and student success were compatible; conflicting interests and opinions were reconciled. 

Yet, I observed so many institutions that do not see these interconnections – or cannot quantify and confirm them – and consume financial and human resources while operating at cross-purposes.

What are your top observations?

  • Enrollment Management and Academic Affairs often operate in separate silos with parallel pursuits – enrollment and learning
  • Admissions Offices work hard to bring in new students in a vicious circle to replace drops
  • Academicians apply assessment results of student learning, not knowing whether they’re changing what works well for some students
  • When surveys serve as assessment of offices, offices speculate on what actions the results imply
  • Offices and programs often lack missions and evidence of productivity
  • Vision and Strategic Planning stops short of metricizing strategic goals for implementation and measurement
  • Offices of Institutional Research often function as Offices of Institutional Reporting
  • Lacking is a Data Library that is structured to perform the research, assessment and reporting that generates practical, actionable information and knowledge

How do research and assessment differ?

Assessment tells you where you are; research investigations tell you why so you can predict and manage outcomes that are important to you.  Many institutions are data rich and information poor.  This fosters leaps of logic and conflicting opinions about the story behind the numbers.  Figures give people the delusion of power.  Human and financial resources are drained that could better serve the mission.      

Susan Coia-Gailey, Founder
Consultant and Contractor