What does this mean? Is the project on track? How is my idea working? These are the types of questions Philip Batty answers during the course of a day. And, he’s happy to research the answers.
As director of Institutional Analysis, he investigates patterns and studies data about students, faculty members and courses offered at the university — information like enrollment history, degrees granted or statistics about an incoming class of students.
This repository of information is key in shaping and supporting the university’s strategic plan. Batty said his core mission hasn’t changed since he arrived at Grand Valley in 2004: to study what students want and learn more about who they are.
You recently gave a presentation to the Grand Valley community about student trends. What type of information did you share?
We talked about ways to better prepare, support and guide students to success. We talked about the value of a bachelor’s degree, the facts of student retention and how to connect students to campus resources.
What is the value of a degree?
On average, a bachelor’s degree has an estimated net value of more than $370,000. But, there are other benefits. College graduates identify themselves as happier and healthier than those with some college. We also know college graduates contribute more volunteer time and charitable donations per capita.
What are some of the things we know about Grand Valley students?
We know they are qualified to be here, both in terms of admissions qualifications and in their disposition to academic work. Most (92 percent) are from Michigan. About 60 percent are female and 17 percent are students of color. Most come to Grand Valley with a major in mind, but about one-quarter begin without a declared major and most will change majors at least once.
What do you enjoy about studying numbers and patterns?
I’ve always been interested in quantitative analysis and understanding statistical relationships. It’s like doing puzzles. People come to you with a problem and you have to figure out if you can offer a solution. And, frequently I can’t if I don’t have the data. But I can give context to certain data to see if it fits their need. For now, that’s what prevents me from being replaced by a computer.
Expand on that — the skill you have over a computer.
It’s important to understand how the data was collected and why it was collected. It suited one purpose but it doesn’t mean it suits my analytic purpose later. I can give it context.
For example, there are great potential uses for GIS (geographic information systems) methods for understanding students and their needs. I get a lot of requests for information about students who live in a particular city, zip code or other geographic area. Today’s undergraduate students don’t remember a world in which people needed to know your address to communicate with you. Grades, bills and important messages are all available electronically. So, what motivation does a student have to tell the university where they live? They tell us where they live when they first apply to GVSU, and, of course, we know if they live in campus housing, but beyond that, address data is definitely hit-or-miss, and failing to understand that can create a pretty misleading picture of our students.
Have you always done this type of work? Been a “stats guy?”
Well, I have the personality of a stats guy. Or at least I think my job suits an introverted personality. Not all stats people are introverted.
I originally wanted to be an epidemiologist. I was studying Latin American public health in graduate school and I realized I wasn’t passionate about it. So, I got a job doing statistical research at a state public health department conducting research on births and deaths. That work was similar to what I do now — using records to track people from an early event to a later event and then doing research on that.
What is your typical day like?
I spend half of my day working on planned projects and the other half taking care of requests that come in. The content of what I study is mostly in three pots: students, courses and faculty. Students are the largest part. I get questions about how popular a certain course is or how effective it is — for example, how many students pass, how many change majors or how students do in subsequent courses.
You were able to provide our office with stats on the number of twins enrolled at Grand Valley (117 sets of twins, five sets of triplets and one set of quadruplets). How did you do that?
That is an example of something we don’t automatically track, but my colleague, Rachael Passarelli, found a way to answer your question. We looked at students with the same birthday and checked for shared next-of-kin names and address histories.
How long do most projects take?
I have some bigger, timely projects that are more complex or analytical, but the average request can be handled very quickly. Most of the information people ask for can be found on the website (gvsu.edu/ia). Some would rather see a published report and don’t need to speak with someone, while others prefer to talk with me or someone about the numbers they’re seeing.
What do you enjoy most about your position?
For me, statistical analysis is mentally stimulating. I enjoy helping people get the knowledge they need to make decisions. While we are part of the Enrollment Development division and we work closely with the Provost’s Office, we serve anyone who needs to know if their idea or project is working. We serve anyone who wants data to support their decisions. This work is something I feel good about and that’s important to me. I feel like it’s for the greater good.