New Sacramento State analytics office researching Well usage

Cailin Jessup

After announcing the creation of the Office of Analytics and Institutional Effectiveness last fall, Sacramento State President Alexander Gonzalez recently named Jana Noel to head the newly-formed office.

Gonzalez said Noel hopes to bring a new outlook on the way information about Sac State is collected and utilized.

“There is data absolutely everywhere on campus – in the academic departments, in the faculty, in the Well, in housing and in the students themselves,” Noel said. “But all of it has never been fully utilized. Our job in this new office is to pull data from multiple sources and use it to find ways to help our students succeed.”

The office differs from the existing Office of Institutional Research because it attempts to go beyond finding numbers and statistics, and uses the data to ask questions relevant to the university and students.

By using different types of data from multiple sources, variables that are helpful to an issue are uncovered, which Noel said “may have otherwise remain hidden.”

The Office of Institutional Research is divided into three separate tasks that includes data collection and management, restructure and reporting and special research and policy analysis, said Office of Institutional Research Director Jing Wang.

“We are charged with the gathering and maintenance of integrated databases,” Wang said. “By using appropriate statistical and deterministic procedures, we generate sophisticated reports that meet the various needs of the campus community.”

The Office of Analytics and Institutional Effectiveness is meant to be a further reaching complement to efforts of the Office of Institutional Research by utilizing both statistical and anecdotal data.

“The (Office of Institutional Research) finds the numbers for everything and does their University Report, but we go a step further and utilize it to ask and answer questions about how things on campus function,” Noel said. “Our role is discovery. We study data with the question of ‘how will this help our students?’ Our research pattern forms around the questions we ask and the way that they lead us to sources of data, but they stay in the broad categories of students, the community and the region.”

In its current state, some faculty feel the new office may be operating too similarly to how the Office of Institutional Research already operates.

“I’m cautious about such things,” said sociology professor Kevin Wehr. “I have seen the administration make duplicative efforts before that end up costing the university unnecessary funds. If more work needs to be assigned to the [Office of Institutional Research] or another analyst should be hired, that should be the alternative to creating an entirely new office.”

The Office of Analytics and Institutional Effectiveness was officially established in September 2013 and is currently collecting a vast number of data sources and conducting studies.

While the office is still without a web portal, Noel hopes that soon a site will be in place after more data has been collected and categorized.

“We’re only just now starting to present data and answer questions that the university poses to us,” Noel said. “As we move forward we hope more people realize we are here and bring us more data, and hopefully answer some of the questions they have as well.”

Noel said the office is conducting a research study on the Well usage and using factors like peak usage times by both commuter and resident students, to gauge how effectively the center is serving the campus.

The office is also preparing to present other finished data studies to the university’s strategic planning process.

By the end of the year,the Noel and analyst Joel Schwartz hope to have developed their databases and methods enough to make it marketable and accessible to the university.

“It’s fun to be a part of something so new and getting the chance to make a difference,” Noel said. “As a professor, you can enact change in students within the classroom, but here we can enact change universally by providing the best information we can.”