Developing Key Performance Indicators for Community Colleges

November 10, 2022 Watermark Insights

Key performance indicators provide higher education institutions with meaningful metrics of progress. Colleges and universities use this information to boost retention rates, increase productivity, and drive change. The data you collect can lead to changes in marketing, financing, classroom structure, curriculum quality, and student and staff performance. 

Understanding key performance indicators and which ones will benefit your institution is the first step toward collecting meaningful information. Additionally, this process can help community colleges better understand how they're performing and what they need to do to attract more students, encourage current students to graduate, and experience higher levels of student satisfaction. Keep reading to discover how to develop key performance indicators for community colleges from Watermark. 

What Is a Key Performance Indicator?

KPIs are vital indicators of progress toward a goal or intended result. They enable higher education institutions to focus on operational and strategic improvement, create a foundation for decision-making, and set their sights on what matters most. Leading indicators detail future success, while lagging indicators illustrate how well you reached results in the past. 

To work effectively, KPIs must be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-oriented. That means setting straightforward goals you can consistently accomplish within a designated time frame. Additionally, your KPIs must be relevant and able to positively impact your institution. 

Key performance indicators include:

  • Graduation rates
  • Research grants
  • Tuition costs
  • Cost per student
  • Proficiency rates
  • Staff and faculty attendance rates
  • Classroom use rates
  • Social media engagement
  • Cost of transit
  • Percentage of students living on campus
  • Average age of buildings
  • Number of training sessions per year 

Importance of Key Performance Indicators in Higher Education

Importance of Key Performance Indicators in Higher Education

Key performance indicators are essential in higher education, and community colleges can benefit immensely from tracking the critical components. KPIs are organizational insights that set targets and gauge progress. KPIs give administrators insight into critical components of their institution. They can lead to making vital decisions that improve campus life and the student experience. Key performance indicators in education can:

  • Deliver evidence of goal and initiative progress
  • Inform decision making
  • Compare a performance degree over time
  • Track efficiency, governance, effectiveness, timeliness, quality, and economics
  • Detail personal performance, behaviors, project performance, and resource use

Why KPIs Are Valuable for Community Colleges

Traditional higher education metrics can't always provide a complete picture of community colleges because students at these institutions can take various pathways to succeed. These measures fail to capture the value community colleges offer because, compared to traditional four-year institutions, it can be challenging to determine which community colleges are delivering quality services and education.

Quality data will better represent your community college and give incoming students a better picture of your offerings. Additionally, you can better identify where your institution needs to improve and where you're excelling, so you can set initiatives and portray a more encompassing picture of your community college. From every aspect of your institution, KPIs can move you and your team forward at the strategic level and increase your relevance.

Common Community College Key Performance Indicators

Your institution can aim for many beneficial KPIs. The best indicators will be those that need immediate attention or can help you address any pain points you've identified. Consider the following community college KPIs.

Common Community College Key Performance Indicators

  • Affordability: Calculating affordability includes scholarships, student loans, and fees. You will need to determine how much funding your institution needs each year to function and adjust tuition rates accordingly. 
  • High school to community college matriculation: Community colleges appeal to many individuals looking to develop professionally. Tracking how many students come directly from high school can help determine whether you need to dedicate your efforts toward this group. 
  • Enrollment: Tracking the number of students who enroll in your institution can help you determine how much money you need to allocate to advertising, marketing, recruiting, and tours. You can also use predictive analysis to determine how much ROI you can see if they complete their programs. 
  • Student satisfaction: Low student satisfaction, especially about staff members, can affect other areas, such as performance and dropout rates. You can help students feel more fulfilled by asking them to complete surveys and evaluations to discover what they would like to see on campus. 
  • Retention: Higher retention rates turn into more funds for your institution. Look at your retention rates and ways you can improve them with predictive analysis
  • Graduation rates: Track how many students are graduating and how long it took them to get there. A long pathway to graduation could mean you need to offer more student support to meet their needs. If you see low graduation rates, you're losing students somewhere along the way and need to discover how you can get them back on track. 
  • Transfers: Discover how many students are enrolling in your institution and transferring to another college or university to complete their degrees or programs. If you have a high transfer rate, understand why and problem-solve to determine how you can keep students enrolled at your institution. 
  • Licensure and job placement: Finding out how many of your graduates are accepting job positions in their fields can be helpful when discussing your offerings with incoming students and standing out against other institutions. Low placement rates could indicate you need to dedicate more resources to help students succeed after graduation. 
  • Fiscal health: Many colleges and universities have recently faced financial challenges. Students who recognize your institution as having excellent fiscal health may be more inclined to enroll because they're more confident you will provide them with the resources they need to succeed. 

How to Develop Effective KPIs for Community Colleges

After understanding the importance of KPIs, the next step for your institution is deciding how to develop them. Your indicators will only be helpful if you know how to use them and what insight you hope to gain. You can create a KPI for student performance, institution success, and other specific initiatives through effective planning.

Create Objectives

Your first step in any plan should be to write a strategic plan. Craft a one-page strategy with your team and outline clear objectives. The KPIs you choose should immediately focus your sights and raise questions about how you can solve problems and drive change. 

Bounce questions around to establish which ones need your attention and ultimately affect your goals. For example, if you want to discover why many students are transferring or dropping out, questions about instruction quality, academic resources, and tuition costs are likely to arise. Through discussions, you can identify which ideas will drive your goals. This effort will enable your team to think of solutions and provide a foundation for the work ahead. 

Describe Results

Describing results begins with evaluating current data and finding the information you still need. At this point, you can identify the KPIs that will help you close this gap and provide the answers you need to reach your goals. Then, you can take the necessary steps to obtain this information and craft more informed decisions. 

Identify Measures

Knowing what you need is only one part of the challenge. You also need to determine how you will measure your data and when. Finding the correct methodology will be critical if you're creating brand-new KPIs or want to adjust current ones. 

You will eventually need to refresh all the data you collect, so determining how often you want to administer surveys and evaluations, self-assessments, faculty reviews, and other datasets will be necessary. To fully grasp the big picture, you will want to collect data often and be able to track trends over time to make accurate predictions. Be upfront with your time about data collection, so you can work as a unit to obtain and review your information. 

Define Thresholds

When you create KPIs, it is essential to define threshold levels. You will never accomplish your goals in a single day — you will need to cover ground to get there. Define these levels to encompass all possible key performance indicators. You can determine which resources and tasks you need to allocate.

You can use symbols like the traffic light indicator to define thresholds. Under this model, a green icon will indicate the metric is on-target or better to reach your goals. A yellow icon indicates the metric is average or off-target within an acceptable range. A red icon identifies metrics that are unacceptable and off-target. You will also need an additional icon to identify metrics that are impossible to use due to missing data. 

Define Thresholds

Uphold Structure

Once you begin data collection, you will need to determine who has access to add or change information and who is read-only. You may need to restrict access to some members of your institution, but this step does not need to be perfect. You can create a scoreboard structure to enable a cross-institutional view and allow regular data input. You will likely need at least half a year to gather meaningful and valuable data, so ensure your data-collection measure can capture information at a sustainable rate. 

Interpret Results

An effective analysis will be the best way to ensure you make informed decisions. Be sure to monitor your KPIs as you're collecting them to get a jump on anything that's not performing the way it should. Share the information with your team and open the floor to discussions about effectiveness. Evaluate which strategies worked and which need improvement. Determine whether you need to adjust your approach or implement a new one. 

If you are arriving at inconsistent data and are not seeing the predicted results, reevaluate your KPIs and the measure you took to obtain information. Avoid taking action until you understand what will drive change at your institution. 

Take Action

Everything you've done to define KPIs, collect data, and make decisions eventually leads you to the actions you can take to improve your institution. You may need to take remedial action to address problems with short-term solutions. For more significant issues, you will need to implement strategic initiatives that will spark institutional changes. 

When it's time to act, take the following steps.

  • Generate initiatives: Document every action your institution must take to fulfill your KPIs and objectives. 
  • Develop criteria: You will need to develop three criteria for each initiative — first, list the potential benefits of implementing the change and how it relates to your institution's vision. Second, estimate what you think the cost of implementation will be and list your general thoughts on the process. Lastly, detail how long it will take to fully introduce a new program.
  • Prioritize goals: Though you likely have many critical initiatives, determining which are most essential will be beneficial when you need to determine how many resources to allocate. If you have 15 initiatives, prioritize five to seven to ensure you can successfully complete them. 
  • Implement and manage: Many of your initiatives will likely need some form of funding. You may need to redistribute institution resources or begin a community campaign for additional income. However, you should ensure you have the resources to commit to each of the initiatives you seek to accomplish before starting to implement them. You may need to reallocate some of the funds from high-priority to lower-priority initiatives if you intend to introduce them simultaneously. At this point, you can assign project managers to your initiatives and continue tracking progress until you meet your goals. 

Streamline Institutional Effectiveness With Watermark

Watermark provides assessment and accreditation software to colleges and universities to foster campus improvement and collaboration. We've been crafting and refining solutions for more than 20 years, and many institutions have trusted us to deliver innovative solutions that drive change on campus. 

At Watermark, data and people are at our center. We know meaningful information leads administrators and decision-makers to identify key metrics and deliver institutional strategies that impact students, faculty, staff, and the community. That's why we've created unique solutions to meet them where they are and help close the gaps they experience. 

With our assessment and accreditation software, you can: 

  • Gather, understand, reflect, and act on programmatic data 
  • Eliminate repetitive tasks to achieve strong faculty engagement and boost productivity 
  • Manage your assessment planning and easily organize outcomes assessments
  • Seamlessly share your strategic plan with your team and create a collaborative environment to drive program progress

Our solutions support continuous improvement. They automate routine tasks and simplify the data collection and review process. Our software allows you to access information that empowers improvement and enables your institution to evolve. You can see our solutions in action by requesting a demo of the software that will benefit your institution. 

Streamline Institutional Effectiveness With Watermark

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