Graduate certificate in advanced analytics meets a critical need in higher ed

June 16, 2021

Education policy in the U.S. runs on data. Yet the amount and breadth of data available can outpace the ability of policymakers and administrators to digest it. This is particularly true in higher education administration, says Rebecca T. Barber.

Barber developed the program and teaches the coursework for the graduate certificate in Advanced Analytics in Higher Education in Arizona State University's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. The 15-credit online program prepares professionals to conduct advanced analytics to support data-driven decision-making in higher and postsecondary education. Chart of data on a laptop computer screen Advanced data analytics is a powerful tool for higher education professionals. Download Full Image

Barber explained why she created the program and why it’s even more valuable today than when the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College launched the program in 2016.

Question: Who was this certificate designed for?

Answer: The program teaches advanced analytical techniques up through basic data mining for administrators at all levels of higher education.

Leaders in higher ed are asking for data on which to make decisions, but there is more to providing that data than meets the eye. The best analysts understand both the data and the business processes they are analyzing. But often we bring in technical experts who don’t know the business, or we have business experts without the technological background to perform a rigorous, actionable analysis. This certificate bridges that gap. It uses higher education examples and powerful tools to teach a subject-matter expert how to gather, cleanse, analyze and report on data to improve operations in every aspect of higher ed, including identifying the most promising prospects for enrollment, keeping students on track to graduation and even maximizing donations from alumni. The power of data is getting it into the hands of the front-line analysts and helping them make the most of it.

Q: How will this certificate program make those administrators better at their jobs?

A: The certificate provides four things, each of them applicable beginning with the first course:

  • Inspiration — We start with a look at the different and varied ways data is making a difference in students’ lives. Students have taken ideas back to their own institutions and introduced the possibility to new audiences, inspiring change and making their institution more effective right away.
  • Technology — We talk extensively about the tools available and teach several industry-leading tools that students can immediately apply in their work.
  • Analytical and critical thinking — How you approach a dataset, what elements you include and how they relate to the question being asked are critical to getting the right results. From day one we work on real-world problems, learning from the instructor and from each other a set of questions to ask, items to check and pitfalls to avoid. Students in the program often start asking new and different questions that lead to better results for the institution and promotions for the student.
  • Communication — Talking about data is hard, and the more advanced the technique the more difficult it becomes. We spend a lot of time on how to explain the analysis, present it to different audiences and communicate findings. All of us have sat through dry presentations of data that neither enlighten nor inspire. The certificate teaches you how to do both.
Rebecca Barber

Rebecca T. Barber

Q: Is this certificate unique?

A: Yes. While there are other programs that address pieces of this material, they all had what I saw as a major flaw: They’re industry-specific. Business analytics programs use business examples that tend to be unfamiliar to educators, and they have high program fees, putting them out of reach for higher ed employees. Engineering programs focus on math and programming, often with high entry requirements for prior math courses. Institutional research degrees and certificates tend to focus on assessment, measurement and qualitative data — important areas, but not helpful for someone working in enrollment or philanthropy. These programs rarely talk about predictive analytics, and when they do it is often covered as one small segment of a larger class.

In contrast to these programs, MOOCs — massive open online courses — may offer some of the technical topics for a lower cost, but they often do so in a disjointed way. And on average, under 4% of students who start a MOOC finish it, suggesting that the camaraderie and accountability of a course make a difference.

Q: Before this program was offered, how did people get the skills it provides?

A: People often put those skills together in an ad hoc way: a MOOC or two, maybe a book, some technical training from a vendor, or just learning as you go was the only way to develop the skill set. They learned the underlying analytical thinking skills by osmosis. There were nowhere near the number of skilled analysts in higher education needed to support all of the data requests.

Q: Is there an increased need for personnel with the skills this certificate program provides?

A: The pandemic has drawn attention to areas in which institutions are unable to get access to the data they need to pivot quickly. The data may exist but not be available, or it might be in a data warehouse but not in a form that actually answers the questions that have come up.

But even before the pandemic, the reality of the last decade has been that higher education has been pushed to do more and more with less and less. Analysis is at the heart of accomplishing the goal of doing more. Most of the “easy” work has been done, but there are many improvement opportunities available within higher ed that require a better understanding of what’s already happening. Data is key to directing limited resources — time, personnel, money — to where they can most benefit an institution and its students.

The Advanced Analytics in Higher Education certificate program offers multiple start dates throughout the year. View application deadlines.

Copy writer, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College


Social work professor explores animals’ abilities to help those dealing with grief

Appears in docuseries produced by Oprah Winfrey, Prince Harry

June 16, 2021

Friends and family members of a grieving person often will advise them to talk to a counselor, to “keep busy” or engage in some other activity they think will help. They want to see that individual return to a “normal life” as soon as possible.

Joanne Cacciatore, an associate professor in the ASU School of Social Work, lost a daughter in 1994. Since then she has learned much more about grief than can be found in conventional wisdom. For example, not everyone wants to talk about what they’re feeling, whether to a therapist or anyone else. It may be too difficult to put into words, for one thing. Also, occupying oneself with distractions may do little other than delay the grieving process. ASU School of Social Work Associate Professor Joanne Cacciatore smiles while posing with a horse Joanne Cacciatore, associate professor in the ASU School of Social Work, and her horse, Chemakoh. Chemakoh has helped several grief-stricken people cope with their losses. Photo courtesy of Joanne Cacciatore. Download Full Image

Cacciatore has also learned that many of those who lost a loved one are aching and empty, and the length of time those feelings are present is unique to each individual. The agony of loss affects everyone differently.

A few years after her daughter’s death, Cacciatore started a nonprofit foundation serving families dealing with the loss of a child, and she returned to school to train to conduct research in this sensitive area.

More recently, she documented how animals can play a vital role in relieving the grief-stricken from the often devastating and long-term effects of loss. Today, along with the MISS Foundation, the nongovernmental organization she started in 1996, Cacciatore and a small group of others operate a care farm in rural Arizona, where grieving people from as far away as Ghana and Cambodia come to work with the more than 40 rescued farm animals who, too, have suffered loss, fear, loneliness and grief. Care farms, popular in Europe, are farms that welcome grieving people to come and heal by participating in nature or interacting with animals.

She shared what she knows with an international audience in May when she appeared in the Apple TV+ docuseries, “The Me You Can’t See,” produced by Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex. Cacciatore also served on the production’s advisory board.

Read on to learn more about Cacciatore’s path toward helping those coping with loss through exposure to animals.

Question: First, please tell us a little about yourself today and your early years. 

Answer: I was born into an immigrant family who moved from New York City to Phoenix when I was 3 years old. At a very young age, I had a sensitivity to animals, and after watching a documentary about animal slaughter at age 7, I stopped eating animals. This was long before the terms “vegetarian” or “vegan” were popularized. I returned to school after the birth of my fifth child; my fourth child having died a few years earlier, leaving me utterly devastated and facing a deep, existential crisis. Not knowing how I could live without her, in 1996 I started the MISS Foundation, a nongovernmental organization, to help families facing the death of a child. I decided to return to school to become a researcher in this area in 1997. I was most positively influenced by Dr. Eric Ramsey at ASU and Dr. John DeFrain at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, who would eventually chair my PhD dissertation committee. It’s been 25 years since the MISS Foundation started.

Q: How long have you been in academia? How long have you been with ASU?

A: I have been at ASU since receiving my PhD from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, in 2007. In 2008 I was named an assistant professor, and in 2014 I became an associate professor. My BA in interdisciplinary sciences/psychology and my MS in social work are both from ASU.

Q: Tell us about the Selah House Respite Center and Carefarm. How did it start? How did it come to be what it is today?

A: Three years ago, after rescuing a badly tortured pack horse, whom I later named Chemakoh, we started the Selah Carefarm, a sustainable restorative community that brings together rescued farm animals with traumatically bereaved families. This incredible project was one of the focuses of Oprah Winfrey and British Prince Harry’s Apple TV+ docuseries, “The Me You Can’t See,” in Episode 4. We hope to eventually start other care farms based on this model of mutual compassion and caring for humans, animals and for the Earth, all over the world.

Q: What was it was like to be contacted by Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry’s production company to ask you to be on their advisory board? How did they say they heard of you? What was it like to appear in “The Me You Can’t See?”

A: It was a real honor to be both featured in “The Me You Can’t See” as well as to sit on the advisory board, with 13 esteemed colleagues, for the docuseries. I was so moved that, while many other pop culture attempts at tackling psychological and emotional struggles often avoid covering topics related to grief, especially when traumatic, this team saw the importance of including it. I have to admit that seeing the Selah Carefarm and some of our clients featured brought tears to my eyes. We’ve worked so hard to create a sacred space that honors grief and helps both human and animal clients experience the compassion of connection and mutuality. Seeing the beauty of it all on screen was overwhelming in a very good way. Since the airing, we’ve been widening our reach to help grieving families all over the world.

Q: You recently wrote a paper that explains how animals provide better subjective social support to grieving humans than most humans can. What do animals have that humans don’t, or have more of?

A: So many grieving people have expressed to me that others are uncomfortable with their sorrow, particularly when it lasts beyond an arbitrarily assumed time limit. However, many respondents in our research reported feeling accepted and loved by their animals, noting that animals didn’t judge their emotional expression, nor did they abandon them when their sadness came to the fore.

In fact, when compared with every other human group with whom grievers typically interact, animals provided significantly more support than family, friends, colleagues, therapists, social workers, medical staff, spiritual providers and more.

When we conducted deeper analyses, we found that their steady and nonjudgmental presence, their continuity, their loving responsiveness and the deep connection with their animals were the most significant ways that animals are perceived as emotionally supportive. Most of these attributes, of course, humans could also provide. But we’d have to deepen our understanding of grief and confront the inevitability of death in order to allay fears. Too often with humans, fear gets in the way of love. Animals, simply, just show up.

Q: What fires you up about your research?

A: I am deeply passionate about my work, so I get fired up about every aspect of it, from connecting to communities to volunteering to help grieving people from around the world. I love what I do in both research and practice.

Q: How do you hope your research will impact society?

A: For me, the greatest gift we could give ourselves and each other, including animals and the planet, would be to understand the beauty that can one day emerge from fully inhabited grief; this is in stark contradiction to the damage that traumatic grief can do when its repressed, both in individuals, families, communities and societies. It is my hope that my research will help shift our culture’s very strange relationship to grief to enact a more compassionate infrastructure that promotes belonging, connection to all things and a depth of caring that is so absent in so many institutions today, especially for those who suffer deep loss. And the more we work with our experiences of deep suffering, I hope, the more we can bring compassion to all living things.

Q: What is it about ASU that made it where you wanted to take your career?

A: I have always appreciated ASU’s vision for bridging research and practice. The application of data to improve the world for all is a core value that I share with the university’s vision.  

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would use $40 million to enact K–12 and beyond education around caring and compassionate communities. While my interest is in trauma and grief, the value of teaching a child, for example, to care for the ants outside is incalculable. If we can teach compassion for insects and animals to children, how much more will they, then, value the life of a fellow classmate? I imagine many of the world’s woes could be eradicated if we prioritized compassionate relationships through education, policy and modeling.

Learn more about Cacciatore’s work with care farming and grief.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions