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APLU partnered with the Association of Institutional Research (AIR) to pilot a Data Literacy Institute (DLI) program to improve data literacy among faculty and staff at 10 institutions with the broader goal of improving student success outcomes. Central to this goal is increasing skills and knowledge in the use of data to inform strategic, tactical, and operational decisions related to student success. The 24-week program launched in two cohorts.

APLU hired independent evaluator ASA Research to examine the implementation and early outcomes of the first cohort of five institutions which launched in August 2021. Approximately 20 faculty and staff from each institution in the Northern Cluster of APLU’s Powered by Publics effort participated.

Through interviews, an online focus group, a survey, document review, and classroom observations, findings were identified regarding participants’ experiences, satisfaction levels, outcomes, and suggestions for program improvement.


  • The survey revealed overall satisfaction with the DLI program; over 80 percent of respondents would recommend the program to their colleagues and found the capstone work valuable to their institutions.
  • Importantly, the majority feel equipped and plan to apply the lessons learned through the program to their work on campus.
  • While respondents understood that the online program format was necessary due to the constraints of COVID, they expressed a clear preference for an in-person program.
  • Focus group and interview participants suggested shortening the program length.
  • While content, capstone projects, and tutorials were the most highly rated program components, the participants acknowledged the difficulty of catering to varying levels of data expertise.


The following recommendations based on participant feedback can guide program replication for future cohorts:

  • Shorten the length of the program,
  • Provide transparent, common language around expectations for time commitment, roles, and responsibilities,
  • Incorporate expertise into participant roles, and
  • Incorporate more practical opportunities for hands-on activities and the use of institutional data.

This first DLI cohort benefited from the program’s content, networking, and group project work. Participants plan to apply strategic data use to their jobs and to continue engaging with their cohorts. Ideally, future cohorts will help increase campus-wide data literacy, collaboration, and ultimately, successful student outcomes.

Data literacy and the strategic application of data to policy and program implementation and refinement are critical skills needed not only by institutional research staff but by all institutional administrators, staff, and faculty. A better understanding of student experiences and outcomes can help an institution shape the supports needed to ensure successful completion.

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Tags: DLI, Evaluation, Findings, data, Literacy

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