What College Presidents Measure and Manage

Among the data sets tracked by University of Mary Washington President Troy Paino are metrics for college seniors who participate in high-impact experiences such as service learning and faculty research. Source: University of Mary Washington

One of my goals in covering Virginia’s higher education system is to understand how colleges and universities operate as business enterprises. What are the key variables that drive revenue, costs, the quality of the educational product, and the ability of institutions to carry out their missions? As the old business saying goes, “You manage what you measure.” If we as Virginia citizens and taxpayers want to understand how college/university presidents manage their enterprises, we need to know what they measure.

When I interviewed University of Mary Washington President Troy Traino two weeks ago for the profile I published yesterday, we chatted about the metrics of his business. Traino described himself a data-driven administrator. When he first came on board last year, he could not easily lay hands on all the numbers he thought was important, he says. But he’s got a handle on the situation now, and he maintains a dashboard of institutional effectiveness that measures UMW’s progress towards its goals.

The November 2017 dashboard, which he distributed to the UMW Board of Visitors, contains 33 charts encompassing topics such as:

  • Fall headcount
  • Admissions data (applications, acceptances, enrollments)
  • Average SAT scores and high school GPAs
  • In-state vs. out-of-state enrollments, on-campus vs. off-campus residency
  • Demographics such as gender, ethnicity, geography, Pell grants, 1st-generation status
  • Graduation rates, retention rates
  • Participation in high-impact practices such as faculty research, service learning, internships, study abroad
  • Satisfaction levels, alumni salaries
  • Student debt profiles, loan default rates
  • University debt levels, cash balances
  • State General Fund support for the institution, per student
  • Net tuition (revenue minus institutionally provided finance aid)
  • Instructional cost per FTE student and per credit hour
  • Endowment size, annual gifts and pledges

For a small liberal arts university, it seems like a pretty comprehensive list. However, I would note that there are a few things that the dashboard does not measure — faculty and staff headcount, faculty-to-student ratios, staff-to-student ratios, average class sizes, faculty and staff compensation, and comparisons with peer institutions, among other productivity metrics. (And that’s just off the top of my head.)

While Paino’s dashboard does not provide all the data that I would like to see, were I on UMW’s Board of Visitors, it encapsulates more crucial information in one document than I have found for any other Virginia university. That’s not to say that other presidents don’t have similar dashboards, just that I haven’t seen them. As I come across others, I will share them with Bacon’s Rebellion readers.

Regardless, Paino deserves credit (a) for collecting the data, and (b) for sharing it with the BoV and the public. I’d like to see that best practice implemented across Virginia’s higher-ed system.

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2 responses to “What College Presidents Measure and Manage”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    I think data-driven is GOOD but you do have to understand the data ..what it means and what it does not mean – and I suspect most institutions collect it and use it to determine their own situation and how to use that data to improve their own performance but I don’t think they collect that data to turn over to the Hoi polloi so they can hold the institutions “accountable”.

    In fact, I suspect many would not really understand the data and even use it for their own agenda which may actually be counter to what the institution is trying to accomplish.

    In terms of money and value – I don’t think the institutions are going to lower or keep low – tuition – unless they are under competitive pressure to do so – and with the state funding the institution instead of the student – it just becomes a annual game every year to see how much the state is going to come up with and how much other institutions are going to charge – and staying in that range…

    UMW knows how much it can charge in tuition – and will charge that amount – as long as they get enough folks enrolling… it’s a fairly straight-forward calculation.

    The folks who go to UMW are not poor… they’re typically upper middle class and well able to afford the tuition especially with a little help from Uncle Sam.

    You do not have to live on campus in a dorm with the College feeding you – to get an education.

    And now days – liberal arts alone will not make you a good competitor in the job market.

    Take a look at how many non-STEM occupations now EXPECT digital competence:


  2. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Rather than respond to Jim’s earlier article on Mary Washington University found at https://www.baconsrebellion.com/no-paino-no-gaino, I will respond to that article here, and to this one here as well.

    Perhaps we can divide America’s system of higher education into three buckets, each today confronting very different challenges, and opportunities.

    1. Elite national institutions. These are all highly selective national colleges and universities. Most all of these institutions are now typically research driven with a dwindling secondary teaching component. Herein are three sub-components.

    A/ What is still called Arts and Sciences, but now typically these courses are of the POST MODERN variety with its highly suspect and overblown claims to creating new ideologies and grievances disguised as NEW KNOWLEDGE).

    B/ In addition, these “arts and sciences programs” on the undergraduate level are increasingly being edged aside by an ever growing list of undergraduate skill based learning programs. Based perhaps on the original undergraduate Commerce or Business Schools, these Programs purport to teach business, leadership, entrepreneurship, marketing & communications, and most anything else under the sun, an ever growing host of other “precious skills” that are, in my view, largely illusory and counterproductive.

    C/ In addition, these elite national institutions also include businesses for the benefit of faculty and Administrators, with a vanishing teaching component, disguised as graduate and post graduate programs in advanced studies and Research in STEM, and many other disciplines, whether post modern arts and Sciences and/or professional schools, or combinations thereof.

    One might estimate that these Elite national institutions number roughly 100 to 120 institutions, if you include the elite colleges with universities. All of these institutions have one thing in common beyond a FAR TOO SMALL cadre of seriously dedicated and highly skilled teachers. They all spend and suck up vast sums of monies both private and public with very little return on the dollar for those paying the bills, whether it be paid for teaching students, or for a monetary return on cost of research or whatever.

    And this is why schools like Mary Washington University are so important today. And why such good 2nd TIER SELECTIVE schools are critically needed today, despite all of the obstacles that are now placed in their way.

    More to come.

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