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Mastering Student Data Management: The Role of Master Data Management in Higher Education

College Classroom Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

By Katie Joll

Is it better to be proactive or reactive?

The number of college-age individuals is about to drop off a demographic cliff, and the reality is, many institutions won’t survive this drought of adolescents. But you can take steps today to strengthen your school and make yourself bulletproof against the oncoming demographic disaster.

All it will take is a slight pivot.

Universities are data-rich but largely don’t maximize their value. To better target their marketing efforts and retain their students, schools need the right data management systems to squeeze every last drop of value out of an asset they already own.

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Game-Changing Master Data Management for Higher Education

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Education Master Data Management unlocks the secrets of disparate, conflicting data from multiple sources and pulls it into a usable, dependable, central source of truth. Part of the MDM ecosystem includes systems and processes for data quality, ensuring accuracy and organization. The data needs to be fit for purpose, easy to explore, analyze, and use to solve key problems for the higher education institution.

A key tenet of MDM is to democratize accessibility so that those who really need to use the data can access it. 

Key Challenges in Managing Student Data

Higher education institutions are missing opportunities for operational improvements and better decision-making in their student data. Why? There are a few common challenges:

  • Data silos – When data is siloed in separate systems, it’s hard to get a complete picture of students.
  • Data quality – Institutions often lack good management processes that ensure data quality. For example, data may be outdated, incorrect, or not presented in a consistent way between systems.
  • Data integration – Without a robust system to pull data together cleanly, getting a unified view is almost impossible.
    Data governance and compliance – Higher education institutions must also carefully manage data to ensure they comply with privacy regulations.
  • Lack of buy-in from leadership – Several surveys have found that leaders in higher education often perceive that investment in data management systems is ineffective. There can be many reasons for this, but one finding was that institutions are often unwilling to change current processes. Instead, they try to make modifications that avoid changing those processes and, in doing so, neglect the reporting functions and miss out on data insights.

Benefits of MDM for Higher Education

If they’re going to survive in an increasingly competitive marketplace, higher ed institutions need to gain a unified, holistic understanding of their students. MDM helps administrators gauge the students’ academic, financial, and even physical health through their lifecycle with the college. It allows staff and faculty to respond nimbly and quickly to problems throughout the undergrads’ tenure and act faster to help retain students through graduation. 

MDM introduces better data governance into the management system. This means a unified way of classifying, organizing, and communicating data. It means having consistency with how data is used and interpreted. It also means better approaches to ensuring compliance with data privacy requirements.

MDM streamlines data integration processes. Higher education institutions often have wide discrepancies among departmental data, which can have ramifications for institutional research. An integrated, “single source of truth” helps eliminate discrepancies and ensure every department reads from the same data set.

MDM can and should help higher education institutions solve their real, everyday challenges with managing their student populations. The benefits include:

  • Improved decision-making. University leaders can take a proactive approach and make decisions based on accurate data. If data analysis reveals that students are likely to drop out at a particular point in their lifecycle with the college, leadership can offer additional support.
  • Enhanced student experience. If higher education is a business, then the student is the customer. Higher education needs to enhance the student experience to help keep them engaged. MDM can help to identify students’ needs and preferences, helping institutions to understand how to do better for their students.
  • Improved operational efficiency. Consider the volumes of data that student administrators have to work with. There is a critical need for intuitive systems that make generating reports and quickly gaining up-to-date insights simple. MDM introduces simplified workflows and streamlined operations.
  • Improved data privacy compliance. MDM systems are accompanied by robust tools to prevent fraud and reduce compliance risks. For example, roles-based access, user authentication, data encryption, and access logs are features of MDM systems.
  • Increased staff/faculty satisfaction and retention. According to the UCLA-MIT study, university leadership has said they could “make better strategic decisions about hiring and curriculum if they had more comprehensive data on faculty research, prospective students, research funding, higher-education policy trends, and competitive intelligence about other universities.” MDM can consolidate all of that information.

Best Practices for Implementing MDM for Higher Education

One of the first best practices for implementing MDM effectively is to secure the whole-hearted approval of institutional leaders. They need to see how MDM will directly help the institution with solving key challenges.

Establishing a strong data governance framework is another best practice. This means establishing the processes, rules, and role delegations that will ensure quality and compliance. 

Thirdly, higher education institutions will need to select the right MDM solution to meet their needs. This should include reporting features that help the institution measure success according to their established KPIs. 

That final point is key. MDM is an ongoing project, not a “one-and-done” initiative. Consistent monitoring and measuring are important to ensure the institution continues to optimize MDM.


MDM is transformative for higher education institutions that need to optimize student data management. A unified view of data helps to drive better decision-making and improved student experiences with the college.

Facts are facts. Enrollment has declined considerably and failed to return to pre-pandemic numbers. At the same time, many students are dropping out or changing their minds about college enrolment plans. The incoming cohort of freshmen is expected to be 10-15% smaller and will only get worse due to a birth rate drop-off that started shortly after the turn of the century and was further exacerbated by the Great Recession of 2008.

MDM helps higher education to stay ahead of the game rather than scrambling to play catch-up. Timely, accurate data means leadership can spot trends early and take action. Given the starkly different demographic trends everyone will be facing, deploying MDM could mean the difference between your school thriving for the next decade or dying.

To get your higher education institution ready for MDM, get started here