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Using Data to Drive Decision-Making: Improving Programs and Services in Support of Community College Student Degree Completion

Vanessa J Ruggieri, Johnson & Wales University


Degree completion rates have recently dominated national debates regarding the value of higher education (Gagliardi et al., 2018). Inherent in this debate is the issue of how to utilize institutional data to evaluate student performance (Hubbard et al., 2020). This process, known as data-driven decision-making (DDDM), has been studied at four-year institutions (Delcoure & Carmona, 2019; Gil et al., 2021; Pulliam & Sasso, 2016), but scant research focuses on DDDM at the community college level (Callery, 2012; Fay, 2020; Hora et al., 2017). The purpose of this qualitative descriptive study was to describe how community college stakeholders (data consumers and data providers) identify and use data to make decisions that improve programs and services designed to facilitate student degree completion. The following overarching research question guided this study: RQ: How do community college stakeholders (data consumers and data providers) describe how they engage in data-driven decision-making to improve programs and services which facilitate student degree completion? Three data sources were used in this study: (1) interviews (N=2) with experts specializing in enrollment management; (2) interviews with community college practitioners (N=16) who oversee enrollment, advising, and student support services (data consumers) and institutional researchers (data providers); and (3) post-interview reflective questionnaires (N=14) seeking additional participant insights. Interview data were analyzed using Boyatzis’ (1998) thematic analysis strategy. Krippendorff’s (1980) content analysis was applied to reflective questionnaire data, corroborating interview findings. Through this analysis, five major themes emerged. Although institutions differ in organizational structure, demographics, and leadership, they share many of the same challenges. Additionally, stakeholder perspectives aligned in the importance of growing DDDM at community colleges, institutional challenges, continuous assessment, and equity gaps in data analysis. The results of this study may inform higher education institutions regarding ways to improve the effectiveness of degree completion programs and services through DDDM and act as a framework to encourage leaders to better utilize enrollment data. Stakeholders may benefit from the results by recognizing the deficiencies of their current DDDM processes, thereby improving practices for the future.

Subject Area

Higher education|Educational leadership|Educational evaluation|Education

Recommended Citation

Ruggieri, Vanessa J, "Using Data to Drive Decision-Making: Improving Programs and Services in Support of Community College Student Degree Completion" (2023). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI30639460.