Strategic Planning: Data-Based Decisions at SNHU

Published on Feb 12, 2018

Updated on Feb 2, 2024

Written by Remie Verougstraete

Armed with relevant data and a willingness to explore it, the Sandbox ColLABorative and Southern New Hampshire University are fulfilling their mission to challenge the status quo and transform students’ lives by using labor market data to enhance their strategic planning, employer engagement, and recruiting.

Sandbox is SNHU’s in-house consultancy and “academic R&D” unit, focused on innovation and emerging trends in education and the marketplace. Using tools from Lightcast, the Sandbox team produces deliverables for a variety of committees and groups at SNHU.

“The presentation of the information and the overall user experience for the tool is amazing. It’s nice to have something that I feel comfortable pulling up in a meeting,” said Brian Fleming, executive director of the Sandbox ColLABorative.

Strategic Planning Powered by Data

Sandbox’s latest project is a strategic plan for the on-campus business school. The process began with getting a solid grasp of labor market conditions and the competitive environment. The school sought to identify who was hiring, what kinds of graduates those employers were looking for, and if that need was already being met by other institutions. According to Fleming, the team at Sandbox used Lightcast data to address all three questions.

“We use it for everything from job trends and conferral trends to leveraging the industry analysis to look at different employers in our region,” Fleming said. “We typically look at trends happening within a 150-mile radius of the university versus within the state of New Hampshire versus the broader New England area, and then nationally.”

For example, the business school found that a significant number of its graduates work in accounting and finance. According to Fleming, seeing the strong demand for these programs from students and employers alike has motivated SNHU to focus on emerging technologies and other projected trends in those fields.

Aligning Curriculum With Careers

But strategic planning isn’t just about chasing the labor market. It also requires a clear understanding of one’s place in the education ecosystem. This means identifying where alumni are already finding opportunities, so that the university can build on that foundation of success.

That’s where Profile Analytics, part of Lightcast's Analyst, has been a breakthrough for the Sandbox team. It’s a powerful tool that bypasses the limitations of traditional alumni surveys and provides SNHU with a new level of detail about their graduates. This includes alumni’s current whereabouts, their employers, their job titles, and even the skills they list in their profiles.

Equipped with this data, SNHU enjoys a much clearer picture of the careers its alumni pursue in the marketplace. From there, the university can take steps to ensure students are prepared for those industries. As Fleming explained, “Lightcast data informs how our leaders think about ways to improve our curriculum, and the competencies that we aspire to help our students achieve.”

Expanding Employer Engagement

SNHU also uses this data to expand and improve its corporate partnerships. Using Profile Analytics, Fleming can identify regions that are top destinations for alumni. Next, he finds the top employers of SNHU alumni in that area. In some cases, he can even filter by CIP code to see which programs are funneling graduates to these employers.

“We use that as a way to arm our outbound business development and executive leadership to be better informed in conversations with employers about potential partnerships with the university,” Fleming said.

Adopting Best Practices: Career Ladders

The university recently found ways to use Lightcast data in its recruitment and program design efforts as well. After seeing Fortin Jean-Pierre of Broward College deliver a presentation at the Lightcast Conference in 2017 (known then as the "Emsi Conference") about Broward’s “Career Ladders,” Fleming was inspired to do the same at SNHU.

SNHU created career ladders for many of its STEM and business programs. The ladders show earning potential, growth potential, and skill requirements for entry level jobs all the way up to positions requiring 10-plus years of experience. The school’s admissions team is now actively using these tools in their conversations with prospective students and parents.

Reflecting on the impact of attending last year’s conference, Fleming added, “We’re engaged with the broader Lightcast community as much as we can be, and trying to pull down whatever best practices we can get from our colleagues.”

In that same spirit, he has a word of encouragement for other colleges wanting to leverage economic or alumni data in their own strategic planning.

“Be very open to what you’re going to find. This is incredibly powerful, very comprehensive data with many uses. I think people need to be really open to what it can do.”

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