Julie Gacnik, associate vice provost for graduate enrollment management and academic marketing at Creighton University, uses a powerful, collaborative approach to evaluate programs and address skills gaps.
Gacnik seeks opinions regarding the data from marketing, admin, and faculty, and verifies the data with local employers.
This approach has helped Creighton University evaluate programs and address skills gaps more effectively.
The real win is not hitting revenue goals, but positioning students for success.
A New Approach
Data isn’t everything. It isn’t autonomous. But data has given Creighton University a foundation for a uniquely collaborative approach wherein marketing, admin, and faculty work together to evaluate programs and address skills gaps—an approach centered on ground-truthing the data…with real people.
“It’s not a one-man shop anymore,” said Julie Gacnik, associate vice provost for graduate enrollment management and academic marketing since joining Creighton in April 2017. “Data has totally changed my world from ‘push what we have’ to ‘see what programs our region really needs, verify the research with employers, and present it to faculty and staff. Engage them in the conversation.’ ”
At Creighton, which serves over 8,000 students through nine schools and colleges in Omaha, Nebraska, no single department holds the reins on curriculum, old or new. Which means nobody is the mere recipient of change. Thanks to Gacnik’s frank communication, university faculty and staff alike understand the “why” behind program development because they understand the data—and have had a voice in the decision-making. “It’s not just about what I think, but what we think,” said Gacnik.
Gacnik’s marketing team uses labor market data to achieve two key objectives. The first is to evaluate new and existing programs; the second is to address local skills gaps. Under Gacnik’s transparent approach, both objectives are prospering.
Data has revolutionized the way Gacnik evaluates current programs. Rather than default to the all-too-tempting approach that assumes Smash-Hit Program A will be the university’s bread and butter, she turns to Emsi data to answer critical questions: Where is the world going? What are the real demands?
“There’s a lifespan on everything,” she said. “I have to evaluate whether our existing programs will continue to be viable in the future.”
But data, in Gacnik’s eye, is never something to beat people over the head with. Instead, she seeks the opinion of faculty and administrative personnel regarding her research. “Here’s what the data says,” she will say. “How do you interpret this?” She also verifies her findings with local employers. That pulse on reality, she finds, lends credence to what the data tells her.
The result: Gacnik has created a powerful marketing strategy that prioritizes programs according to outcomes and enrollment potential. Rather than give each program equal funds and marketing focus, she determines which programs will best serve the community’s needs, and allocates marketing dollars accordingly.
“The data informs where I go and what I do and how much I spend, not ‘Well, everybody loves an MBA and our business college is popular, so we should put money there.’ ”
Addressing the Skills Gap
How do you keep alumni engaged in continuous learning so that they remain competitors for top jobs?
To answer this question, Gacnik uses a combination of select Emsi data (skills, certifications, job postings) and old fashioned internet-sleuthing to identify the top skills and certifications needed by employees. She ID’s the shortages, then evaluates Creighton’s programs. “Are we preparing people for that certification exam?” she and her team ask themselves. “Are we equipping them to close that skills gap? How can we improve our courses to meet those demands?”
Her team then provides data and insight to a working group focused on supporting faculty and administrators on the development of new programs and enhancement of existing programs. Once again, sharing the information early in the game creates consensus and smooths the road to change. “It’s about pulling, not pushing,” Gacnik said. “It’s about bringing the data to life for people, and openly discussing what needs to be done—making everyone a valued asset to the process.”
Having a working group viewed as a resource, rather than a threat, to support program evaluation is critical. It creates an integrated process wherein faculty and campus partners are empowered to explore new programs with the support of researchers capable of identifying the viability of enrollment.
Gacnik has a word of advice to other colleges and universities, and it goes beyond simply tapping into the data. Communicate. Share. Verify. Partner with the people in your own institution. “Once other departments start chiming in, that’s when you win.”
Yes, all this equates to higher enrollment, but she doesn’t look at the dollar sign. “I know my revenue goals, but I focus on the people,” she said. “I’m positioning them for success. That’s the real win. I love creating pathways of opportunity for people.”