6 Takeaways from the 2022 AIR Forum Conference

A team from Datatelligent ascended on Phoenix for the 2022 AIR Forum Conference, the first in-person event for us since 2019. Bringing together higher education professionals, specifically institution researchers, with data and analytics leaders, AIR Forum was well attended and full of energy. 

The conference also allowed us to reflect on the current and future state of data across the higher education space based on the sessions we attended and the meeting and discussions we had with leaders. With that, here are our top 6 takeaways from 2022 AIR Forum.  

1. It was Great to be Back in Person 

Conference attendees, myself included, were excited to see one other, to share ideas, and to catch up. AIR Forum provided opportunities for networking, brainstorming, and problem-solving.  

The coffee shop in the convention center was a regular hot-bed of connections and conversations, and it served as a good reminder that connecting face-to-face is an unparalleled experience.  Virtual conferences have proven to be extremely effective when it comes to delivering great content, but I think we can all agree that nothing replaces those spontaneous hallway discussions. It sure was  great to be back in person!  

2. Data Literacy & Maturity are Critical 

Data literacy is the ability to explore, understand, communicate and tell stories with data.  

The good news is that from the discussion we had at AIR Forum, higher education institutions truly understand that data is the ultimate differentiator and that data literacy is the key to unlocking the value of your data and technology investments.  

Understanding your institution’s data maturity in terms of your data and analytics vision, as well as your data sources and KPIs, is critical to advancing your maturity.  

We met with several leaders and discussed data maturity. Through this, we learned that there is a wide spectrum across organizations, ranging from data aware to data proficient and then further up the spectrum to data savvy and ultimately data driven. 

3. There’s a Severe Data Staffing Challenge… and Options 

We can all agree that it’s difficult trying to find the right talent for the job, regardless of the job. But when you add in the need for specialized data skills, the challenge becomes even more cumbersome. On top of that, as we potentially head into a global recession, the outlook becomes grim. 

It’s not surprising that we heard from several higher education leaders who said they were actively looking to get creative and “future-proof” their workforce in the face of: 

  • Not being able to hire due to a shortage of data workers  
  • Declining retention due to employee turnover  
  • Economic uncertainty in the face of a possible recession 
  • Inability to keep good talent due to the high demand for highly skilled data workers

One way to circumvent the hiring challenge was to actually not hire directly. Instead of hiring, leading higher education institutions that are looking to reduce risk while also increasing efficiency are turning to Datatelligent’s Data Analytics as Service (DAaaS) model, an alternative option to staffing and building your data team. 

For the cost of just one senior data architect, with our DAaaS model, you can get a whole team to support your data needs—from solutions, strategy, to detailed expertise. We bring use of our leading-edge solutions to help grow your business—all under one unique subscription as a service solution. 

4. Virtualization was Everywhere 

For institutions looking for a new way to combine data from different sources that make it easier to access, understand and share across your organization, conference attendees didn’t have to look far. Virtualization was everywhere. 

There were several sessions about virtualization and how to easily connect to data stored anywhere, in any format. Our technology partner, Tableau, was on hand at AIR Forum sharing how they can help institutions quickly perform ad hoc analyses that reveal hidden opportunities using drag and drop functionality to create interactive dashboards with advanced visual analytics. If you have questions about virtualization, let me know. I can help.  

5. The Future for Data Inclusion & Equity is Now 

For data solutions to be relevant and sustainable, they must be designed in collaboration with the communities they are intended to represent and support.  

We are seeing organizations be intentional about their data. From what we saw at AIR Forum and the meetings that we continue to have, I think that higher education institutions are on the precipice of ensuring data is more inclusive, representative, and effective. In fact, viewing data as a strategic asset and committing to an organizational culture of data inclusion can lead to discussions about policies and how higher education institutions can and should invest in their communities into the future.   

6. Student Recruitment, Retention & Success was a Hot Topic 

Did you attend our session at AIR Forum? Titled “How Tableau Can You Go? Increasing Data Access for Decision-Making,” our own Larry Blackburn, Chief Solutions Officer, was joined by Deborah Phelps, Executive Director of Institutional Effectiveness at Cowley College during a session at AIR Forum. They shared how Cowley College has dramatically improved student recruitment and retention by successfully evaluating and reimagining their data analytics infrastructure to become a more data-driven organization. They also reviewed Cowley’s implementation of Tableau, a data visualization application.  

If you missed our session at AIR Forum and would like a copy of the presentation slides, just email me. I’d also be happy to review the presentation with you detailing what we did to improve student success at Cowley College. 


The Intersection of DEI, Data & Student Enrollment

All data are not created equal. To be actionable, and to have a chance of influencing behavior, information needs to be legible to the intended audience. 

Many higher institutions have all the right diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) data points at their fingertips, but what they lack is the clarity behind what the data means and the decisions they need to make based on the data. Student information sitting passively in a myriad of databases is a far cry from actionable DEI insights.

Equity can’t be explained away by rhetoric—it’s about the numbers. Whether or not you believe equity is framed and defined by ownership or diversity, it is definitely quantifiable. Therefore, it’s essential to present diversity data in an easy-to-understand, customizable scorecard or dashboard that is relevant to its intended users. The data presentation should allow for easy comparisons between units and across time periods.

Enter Datatelligent. We understand that finding and enrolling the right students is more challenging than ever, which makes each stage of the enrollment journey even more critical. 


Datatelligent is participating in several upcoming sessions about the intersection of DEI and data, including:

The sessions will review strategies for evaluating the effectiveness of your DEI data across student recruitment and enrollment initiatives. They will also feature a demo of Datatelligent’s DEI Student Outreach Solution Engine that gives higher education leaders a 360⁰ view of the student data, including:

  • Insights into DEI-related recruitment opportunities for high school students
  • Interactive map of counties highlighted by special population indicators and current college attendees
  • Key demographic data (poverty levels, single female households, disability, unemployment rates, etc.)
  • High schools per county displayed with student body demographic details

In order to advance DEI, you must drive progress through your data. Insight into your student data—from its racial and cultural makeup to geographical recruitment reach—is key to understanding your students’ experiences and the change that needs to happen. 

Contact Datatelligent today to start fully tapping your DEI data.


Cut Through the Chaos — Build a Custom Nonprofit Health Dashboard with Datatelligent

Working in the nonprofit space can be highly satisfying — you may be focused on addressing a pressing social need, making a positive change in your community, or supporting a mission about which you feel passionate. But the nonprofit world also may mean working with a limited budget, a small staff, and more challenging infrastructure. Throw board and donor outreach in the mix, and the complications can intensify quickly.

What if there was a data-driven, customizable and scalable solution that could seamlessly bring together disparate information in order to gauge organizational health? Imagine having data related to your people, programs, finances, development, and marketing accessible anytime all in one system? Well, that time is now with Datatelligent’s Nonprofit Health Dashboard.

At Datatelligent, a leading data analytics firm, we recognize that nonprofit organizations have specific data challenges and infrastructure needs. Whether it is the ability to gauge your program’s effectiveness year-over-year quickly, identify trends in staff retention, answer board member questions on-the-fly with up-to-date information, or forecast fundraising goals, nonprofit leaders are tasked with juggling multiple demands.

As an executive in the nonprofit space for more than 25 years, I have experienced it all — endlessly pulling reports and Frankensteining the information together from numerous sources, fielding questions from board members and scrambling to find the answers, feeling the frustration of reconciling data anomalies — all while working to support and advance our mission.

All of those experiences have helped me create the Nonprofit Health Dashboard with my colleagues at Datatelligent. This solution enables nonprofits to consolidate information flowing in from throughout the organization, allowing staff to have insight into essential parts of their business: People, Programs, Finances, Development, and Marketing. Each section is organized around Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as dictated by your needs. Our staff at Datatelligent will fine-tune this dashboard to meet the custom needs of your organization. All with the goal of allowing your leadership team and staff  access to the timeliest, data-driven information.

Imagine having all of this at-the-ready: Being able to identify and compare organizational trends, pulling information on-the-fly to address immediate questions from your board or donors, comparing and contrasting program performance to accurately forecast for the future. All of this is possible with our Nonprofit Health Dashboard.

And our team is here to help create your custom dashboard, store the data in the cloud (freeing up your staff’s time and effort), and report the information in a highly visual display, making the data easy to access and act upon.

If you’d like to learn more about how Datatelligent can create a Nonprofit Health Dashboard for your organization or how we have supported other clients, visit


Save Clients Time and Budget with Tableau Prep

From a technical standpoint, data analytics work can be challenging and time consuming. Whether it’s combining different data sources, blending disparate systems, or filling in missing gaps, it can be a migraine-inducing task.

But what if we have been overlooking a tool that can make our job easier and deliver a more stream-line experience for our engineers? At Datatelligent, we have become adept at utilizing Tableau Prep, a Tableau module that can seamlessly clean and combine data from different sources in a highly visual interface. It eliminates the need to write code to connect to data sources and cleanse data. It’s included in the standard Tableau subscription, so it is a budget-friendly option as well.

We have successfully utilized Tableau Prep with numerous Datatelligent clients from the higher education, retail, and the business-to-business sectors. Our knowledge and experience has helped us access our customer’s data in a direct, visual way to ensure a deeper understanding and gives us the ability to act quickly and with confidence. We can deliver our projects quicker and without the usual data management headaches – all with no need to write code, saving countless man hours and improving performance.

Not only is our use of Tableau Prep a huge time and budget saver, but also it allows us to see immediate results. We see the results instantly with each action. This gives us the flexibility to immediately fix errors or try new processes without the need to write new code.

If you’d like to see how Datatelligent supports clients with its Data Analytics as a Service (DAaaS) approach and specifically how we have successfully leveraged Tableau Prep to help clients big and small, visit


Interns Get Big Experience with Big Data

We have all been there—immersed in the theoretical while in college but finding it difficult to envision how to transfer those skills to an actual on-the-job setting. You may also feel nervous about whether you will enjoy or be overwhelmed once you do land a new job. This is where internships can help. Students can get a taste for their chosen profession and gain a better understanding for the day-to-day activities of a particular industry. They can also make valuable contributions to the employer and the industry at large.

For us at Datatelligent, our internship program has been tremendously successful. Not only have we had the opportunity to work with highly motivated and talented students, but we have been able to introduce them to the field of data analytics and cultivate tomorrow’s professionals.  

Our interns have been critical to our success. Since the start of our company, we have always relied on interns to support both our marketing and sales activities and solution development. We have found that they are quick learners and hard workers who always deliver quality outcomes. The rapid growth of Datatelligent is directly related to the value our interns have provided to us – we would not be where we are without them.

But why hear it just from me. Here is what our current and former interns have to say about their experiences working with Datatelligent in data analytics:

“I am hoping to continue working with Datatelligent throughout my senior year in college. I want to continue this Data Analytics journey and see where it can take me. I have enjoyed every minute of it, and I am looking forward to the future.  I would have never imagined being able to turn data alive by creating interactive dashboards to help you better visualize your data. Now I find myself questioning everything I see, ‘Could I build a dashboard for that?’”  
Uriel Nunez, Dominican University – Degree program: Computer Science  

“I found out about Datatelligent through a professor and had been searching for some time. Next thing you know I am now working at Datatelligent as a Solutions Engineer working with some of the best people you can look for in an internship.”
Mathew Molloy, Dominican University – Degree program: Computer Science

“While working and being a student during a pandemic, I appreciated that I was able to integrate what I was learning into my work and use my internship as an extension of my virtual classroom. My internship was (and continues to be) flexible with my schedule. Data analytics is much more visual and interactive than I previously thought. Our team creates dashboards that have so many colors and ways to explore the data that’s displayed. It makes it much easier to understand and to make decisions based on that data.”
Alyssa Pincuspy, Northern Illinois University – Degree program: Double major in Marketing & Communications and a certificate in Professional Selling

“I plan on helping achieve the goals and tasks of the company. It’s a small team, but I really enjoy working with everyone, and I hope that my work creates an impact. One thing I’ve learned is to hone my communication skills. I’m not shy but learning to communicate constantly with my team and it’s something that I’m improving on.” 
Alexis Aquino, Dominican University – Degree program: Computer Science

To learn more about Datatelligent and our work in the data analytics space, or to reach out about future internship opportunities, visit

Steve Wightkin, Chief Operating Officer, Datatelligent


Can Community Colleges Survive the Pandemic?

There is no shortage of adjectives to describe 2020 and 2021: catastrophic, heart-wrenching, impossible, irritating, devastating. Whether we are applying it to our own personal experiences or to the broader world around us, no one can dispute that the COVID pandemic has created an environment of change and disruption.

This has been felt profoundly throughout our educational system. Schools have had to reinvent how they operate, and nowhere has this been more disruptive than in the community colleges space. While COVID has created headaches and difficulties throughout the higher education landscape, community colleges have experienced the brunt of the COVID-related fallout.


Colleges and universities had already been experiencing issues related to the cost of higher education and the student loan crisis. Schools have seen costs explode while revenues decline. In addition to the significant investments schools have made to transition to online learning environments — from training, course development, and technology improvements — they have also had to invest in infrastructure improvements to address other COVID-related issues (more space for in-person education, air filtration systems, etc.).

All this is occurring while many current and prospective students are questioning the value of higher education. Many have opted to delay a return to school until after the pandemic. Some question the cost relative to their online learning experiences. Schools have lost additional revenue as many students have not returned to on-campus living, sporting and other events have been canceled, state and federal funding may not be available, and alumni have not contributed as generously as in the past.

This list does not even touch on the additional COVID fallout — anxiety, vaccine availability, variants, etc.

So why has this hit the community college sector harder?

Unlike other economic downturns where community colleges have seen their enrollment numbers climb, the COVID pandemic has produced the opposite result. Community colleges have seen enrollment and retention numbers take a significant hit compared to other higher education institutions, especially for first-year students, where they see a nearly 20% drop.

Students at community colleges have also reported greater barriers to enroll and stay in school:

  • Job uncertainty — Many students rely on income from full- or part-time jobs that either disappeared or were severely hampered during the pandemic.
  • Family demands — This was especially difficult during the stay-at-home order when students found it disruptive to take online classes while also balancing family/childcare responsibilities.
  • Technology hurdles — Many students reported limited or no access to the technology required to complete online learning. Reliable broadband technology, as well as access to a computer or tablet, was a significant barrier to the new normal.
  • Limited emotional connection — Community colleges have historically had a more difficult time creating a sense of camaraderie and engagement compared to other colleges and universities. The transition to online learning has only exacerbated this sense of disconnect.
Will they be able to recover? Yes.

The answer is data. Community colleges are sitting on a patchwork of information that can be harnessed to help them answer key questions and pivot to meet challenges more effectively. Whether it be diving into enrollment metrics to help them improve existing programs or identify new opportunities; working with faculty and students to proactively seek out students that are struggling and develop programs to improve retention; or better forecasting for budget needs, especially when revenue targets and funding sources are shifting — this can all be addressed

by collecting and mining the data within these colleges.

And that is what we at Datatelligent can help with. We have partnered with colleges and universities throughout the country to develop data solutions to help them use their data to navigate these difficult times.

To learn more about our work with community colleges, visit:

by Steve Wightkin, Chief Operating Officer, Datatelligent


What Does It Mean to Be Data-Driven?

Using data to drive decisions, being data-savvy, harnessing the power of your data…all of these buzz words get bandied about during meetings, at conferences, in the trades, and online, but what does it really mean? How do you even know if you are a data-driven organization?

At Datatelligent, and throughout my extensive career in data analytics, I see becoming a data-driven organization as an iterative process. Think of it as a continuum. While it might seem overwhelming to assess and implement the organizational changes required to be in the data-driven zone, it’s more realistic and manageable to break the evolution into steps.

Step 1: Data Aware

You first need to recognize that your organization has disconnected information — nearly every entity does. For those companies just beginning their journey, these pieces of data may be tracked using manual, non-standard reports. And decisions rarely are made using the available data.

Step 2: Data Proficient

Your organization is tracking and collecting data using standardized reporting tools or reporting platforms, but the information may not be shared collectively. The data may not be well utilized for decision-making or planning.

Step 3: Data Savvy

You’re getting there. Your company tracks and uses data to make some business decisions, but the information may be trapped in silos between groups/departments, and the methodology to collect and report data may be inconsistent.

Step 4: Data-Driven

You’ve arrived at the pinnacle! Your organization uses data-first thinking from the start. All people and processes are in sync for data collection, tracking, and utilization. And data analysis is embedded into your decision-making practices.

So How Do You Get There?

It’s essential to look at the big, broad picture for your organization first — try to establish a high-level plan that is connected to your institution’s mission. This will help ensure that the data you mine is connected to achieving the results that matter to your stakeholders. What data will help you reach your business goals? Do an honest assessment of where your organization is in its analytics maturity (as per the steps above). Do you need to make any changes/adjustments to get started?

Next, invest what you can and adopt an iterative approach. This is more cost-effective than tackling an enterprise-wide solution, and it allows you to focus on projects that bring immediate value and smaller wins. Snowball this and add on as you build confidence and support throughout the organization.

Lastly, it’s essential to establish a unified approach. Develop a unified data platform to be rolled out across all parts of the organization. Bring together stakeholders to set the tone of collaboration and resist the temptation to silo information. And empower staff to access the data and tools in order to make decision-making a data-driven exercise. Invest in consistency, connection, and training.

To learn more about how Datatelligent has helped companies large and small, as well as colleges and universities, become data-driven, visit

By Larry Blackburn, Chief Solutions Officer, Datatelligent

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