Metrics and analytics have become vital tools in many realms of human endeavor—from the world of sports to retail marketing to policing. We measure, analyze, and act upon data that helps us decide which lineup to employ against a tough left-hander, which products to place on store endcaps or a company’s top webpage, and where to position officers on patrol.

It is no surprise that Rutgers, like other universities, is using metrics to analyze our operations, to work smarter, and to help us thrive. How do we best reach outstanding high school students in and beyond New Jersey? How do we maximize classroom usage and reduce the time spent on university buses between classes? Are we doing all we can to help our students graduate in a timely manner? 

Five years ago, in developing our university strategic plan, we made a commitment to measuring our performance. It was not enough to set goals for improvement; we would hold ourselves accountable for progress (or lack thereof) toward these goals.

To honor that commitment, each quarter the governing boards and I review the data pertaining to more than 50 aspects of the university’s mission. These include academic metrics such as one-year retention rates, graduation rates, and overall academic satisfaction. They include financial measures such as fundraising totals, research grants awarded, debt burden, and endowment. And they track the efficiency of our day-to-day operations.  

Data tracking has helped us to identify and improve issues such as filling job vacancies quickly, making sure the help desk provides high-quality tech support, and maintaining strong relationships with state and federal lawmakers. 

At first blush, some of these numbers may seem removed  from the core mission of a public university—education, research, and service. But in fact they help us achieve that mission by showing us where we need to devote resources so we can make every dollar count while delivering the best experience to Rutgers students. 

Our students deserve classrooms and dorm rooms that are well maintained and to easily find the courses they need for their degrees. Our faculty need the university’s assistance to obtain research grants and then turn their discoveries into products and processes that benefit society. Our supporters—including generous donors, corporate and foundation partners, and government agencies—expect us to manage our budget and our operations at maximum efficiency. Measuring how well we accomplish these tasks helps us stay on mission.

It’s working. Thanks to the dedication of people across the university; strong support from our alumni, donors, and partners; and our commitment to accountability, Rutgers is achieving the overarching goal of our strategic plan: We are taking our place among the nation’s leading public universities.