Image of person typing on a laptop with" Goals 2020" on the screen

Resolve to Get (Your Metrics) in Shape in 2020

“What gets measured, gets managed.” We’ve all heard this phrase (written by Peter Drucker in 1954). Some 65+ years later it has been used a TON—and misused almost as often. Some folks have taken it as a license to ‘add one more metric’ that should be monitored.

So it’s no surprise that we’ve ended up in Metric Hell — a phrase recently used (and perhaps coined) by Sally McRorie, Provost at Florida State University (Go Noles!). Dr. McRorie has talked about having over 100 metrics that she needs to look at regularly.

Laptop with Goals 2020 on screen - maybe your goal should be getting your metrics in shape.

New Year, New Look

The new year is a great time of year to take stock of all of the metrics – and have an honest conversation at your college or university. Ask “Which measures are we really using?” Answering this question can be like going to the grocery store or out to a restaurant when you are super hungry –ALL the options sound great. So how do you evaluate your current metrics? How do you know if they are good? How can you figure out that are missing? When to sunset some? Here are some criteria that I’ve used as a senior administrator, data wonk, and accreditation liaison.

  1. When was the last time the metric was calculated? Sometimes a metric is only calculated once a year. Such is the case for many IPEDS metrics (graduation rates, outcome measures, etc.). Others are weekly or each semester. Like that sweater in the back of the closet, if you haven’t unearthed it in the last year, it probably is on the eliminate list.
  2. When was the last time you used it for a decision? I mean really used it. Not just looked at it. Really used it to make a decision. If the info hasn’t led to a decision in the last 4-5 years, it probably needs to be on the list for ‘not worthy of leadership time.’ Or maybe the metric isn’t being used and should be?
  3. When was the last time the metric had an impact on student success? This one is tough and requires a lot of honesty. If ‘student success’ is really THE priority, then the metrics need to reflect that. So if the metric hasn’t been used for student success, maybe it slides down to a list of less frequently viewed or department specific metrics that are monitored (not at the leadership level).
  4. What metrics are we not using—but should be? You might be thinking ‘Wait. Now I’m supposed to add metrics? I thought the point was to pare down the list.’ The goal is to monitor metrics that the institution uses – and doesn’t fill up the dashboard just to have ‘stuff’ on it. More does not mean better. Quality metrics = Quality decision making. So if your institution has 100 metrics that you can demonstrate (say to an accreditor) that you are actually using – great! If not…shed them.
Blue and white fireworks in the sky. You'll celebrate when your metrics are in shape in 2020.

On Adding/Replacing Metrics

I’ve found in my work with many colleges and universities that metrics that measure transfer, part-time, and/or high financial need students (Pell vs Non-Pell) tend to be missing from the regular set of metrics, yet those students comprise a significant amount of revenue. (How many other organizations do you know that do not have metrics for significant sources of revenue?).

Consider adding your institution’s RealityCheck Report results to your annual metrics. The RealityCheck Rates compare actual and expected completion rates for multiple student groups (first-time vs transfer, full-time vs part-time, Pell vs Non-Pell). Your RealityCheck Rates will give you important insight into where there has been success and where your institution needs to do more work.

Learn more about RealityCheck or contact us to discuss incorporating RealityCheck Rates into your institution’s key metrics.


The Institute for Effectiveness in Higher Education (IEHE) innovates and improves higher education standards through our strategic research, publicly available resources, and partnerships with colleges and universities. We provide extensive expertise on data strategy, IPEDS, institutional research and student success to drive institutional effectiveness.