Why Deans’ Reports? How to Gain In-Depth Insight at a Divisional Level

by Todd Benson

One of the hallmarks of COACHE’s work is listening. Perhaps the clearest example of COACHE listening to its partners is the development of our COACHE Comparative Data for Deans, otherwise known as Deans’ Reports.  These reports were built because of our partners’ feedback that drilling down and deploying data at a divisional level is an effective strategy to get even more valuable insights from their COACHE results. Here’s why:

  • While every university has its own culture, divisions do too. We see this in broad disciplinary differences (e.g. Humanities faculty have different needs than STEM faculty) but also because each school or college within a university has its own culture. The Deans’ Reports help parse out these distinctions.
  • The Deans’ Reports also point out broader trends in a discipline. Looking at the comparative data can help deans understand and respond to the broader trends in their respective fields. As deans look to recruit new faculty, having a sense of the broader issues can drive discussions about strategies to make their divisions attractive to prospective hires.
  • Policies are often set at the university level but implemented at the divisional and departmental level. There may be a distinct difference between what is written in a policy handbook and how faculty experience that policy. Divisional reports help deans and provosts assess variability within the institution.

There are three tiers of Deans’ Reports available based on our partners’ needs:

  • Tier 3 Reports: compare a division to the rest of the university. As with all COACHE reports, the Deans’ Reports mask results with fewer than five respondents and provide better data without the risk of violating confidentiality. This tier of reports is typically only used by institutions that decline access to their raw data.
  • Tier 2 Reports: provide comparisons to the institution and to similar divisions at other universities to offer a benchmarking group (e.g., your college of engineering compared to all other colleges of engineering in COACHE’s data set).
  • Tier 1 Reports: give deans the ability to compare their division to their institution, to all similar divisions in aggregate, and to five self-selected “near peers” for the most detailed results. (Deans do not need to use the same peers as the full institutional report.)

What can Deans’ Reports accomplish that your standard COACHE reports cannot?

When a COACHE team reports back with a university’s survey results, some faculty and deans can express reservations about the findings. “That may be true at the university level, but it isn’t the case in my college,” is a common rebuff to challenging data. It is true that divisional culture can run against the grain of institutional culture, but it is certainly not always the case. The Deans’ Reports help us to confirm or dismiss these claims.

If the results affirm that a division has similar challenges to the rest of the university, then the Deans’ Reports can help us build alliances. If the dean’s suspicion that their division outperforms the rest of the university is confirmed by the data, the institution can ask, “What’s different about that division? What can we learn and apply elsewhere?” In either case, the increased granularity helps inform strategy and plans for progress.

In addition, these reports provide deans with valuable information about their school or college’s position within the faculty labor market. It informs how they can support their current faculty and what makes their division attractive to prospective faculty, or how they can improve their national reputation.

When are Deans’ Reports most helpful?

But just because Deans’ Reports can be helpful does not mean that every division needs them. That is why COACHE offers these reporting options with flexibility in mind. Universities can opt into any of the report levels, and not all divisions in an institution need to receive a Deans’ Report. Those decisions can be made on an individual basis.

Here are a few questions to ask as you consider whether Deans’ Reports are a worthwhile investment:

Are there enough comparative data?

This question only applies to Tier 1 and 2 Reports where divisions compare themselves to the labor market at large.  COACHE has developed a broad taxonomy of divisions. When a dean requests a report, they should look at the available comparison divisions in our Deans’ Report Benchmarking Peers List.  That peer list report will give deans a sense of the available comparative data. The number of comparison divisions varies from discipline to discipline, so a thorough review of these lists will help establish the quality of the comparative data.

Does the division have the capacity to analyze the data?

Though university leaders are asked to work with data frequently, they come with varying levels of experience interpreting complex data sets. The information provided in the Deans’ Reports does not come with data visualizations that are included in the full campus COACHE reports, so some experience analyzing quantitative data is required to understand the information provided. Some divisions have begun hiring their own institutional research teams to help them make sense of everything from student enrollment and retention data to financial expenditures, and they may be able to help assessing the data in a Deans’ Report too. At other universities, deans and their staff work through data with less professionalized resources.

Regardless of their current capacity, deans should be encouraged to assess their ability to manage, interpret, and deploy the results.

Does the division have a plan and accountability structure?

When COACHE works with its partners to develop a communication plan, a significant portion of the work tells faculty what their institution plans to do with the results. We encourage our partners to convey to faculty how the results will be shared, who will have access to the results, and the process for developing action plans with the results. We believe that deans should be held to the same account.

We encourage our partners to ask their deans:

  • How do you plan to use the data? What are your areas of focus? Does the COACHE Survey address those areas?
  • Who are the people within the division that will form your COACHE team? Who will help you analyze the data, and more importantly, who will help you disseminate the results and develop action plans?
  • What are your plans for transparency with faculty? How will results be shared (either in toto or summary format)? How do you plan to convey the action plans beyond the results?

If you are interested in learning more about Deans’ Reports and how they can help your institution, contact Deborah Ruiz to schedule a call.