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Building capacity from within: Bay Mills Community College’s data journey

Stories & Case Studies
July 21, 2021
image of lake and school next to water

Bay Mills Community College (BMCC) is one of three tribally controlled colleges in Michigan — it is also the only community college located in Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula. Since joining the ATD Network in 2017, BMCC has made transformational changes to data practices, building capacity and generating positive outcomes for student success in the process. The college’s data journey underlines the importance of having dedicated data analyst or institutional researcher roles at an institution. These staff members are key to helping colleges better understand the student journey and identify how the institution can better support their success.

Following the results of the college’s ICAT (Internal Capacity Assessment Tool), a process that every college undergoes when it first joins the Network, leaders at BMCC identified a need to build the college’s data capacity. Aligning the (now former) president’s desire to develop stronger data practices with the staff’s willingness to engage in the work of creating more trustworthy data, BMCC immediately set to work reimagining their approach to student data.

One of the first steps they took was to tap Brenda Clor, who was hired in 2018 as administrative assistant to the president, to help lead this work. At tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) — as with any small college — staff and faculty each wear many hats, filling multiple roles at one time. But Clor immediately took on this new role at full speed. And the more work she put into it, “the more she was able to help the college see the importance of data,” said Dr. Vasti Torres, an ATD data coach who works with BMCC.


Clor said that as soon as she was given this new role, “things moved pretty quickly.” She attended the ATD Data and Analytics Summit for the first time in 2018, where she learned about key concepts such as “the differences in leading and lagging indicators and the differences in qualitative and quantitative data.”

“The second year was even more beneficial,” Clor said. “I was much more comfortable in my role and had the opportunity to mingle with peers. This led to some amazing conversations and later some collaborations.” Among these is a collaborative team formed by multiple TCUs, which, while still in its infancy, “will help tribal colleges come together to share ideas and best practices, collaborate on training opportunities, and give each other a support network.”

Clor said she has learned a lot from ATD trainings and events. She has been encouraged to apply for a scholarship from the Association for Institutional Research to continue her professional learning, and has begun to work toward a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in accounting, after which she plans to pursue a graduate certificate in institutional research for higher education.

As of fall 2020, Clor was officially promoted to the role of institutional researcher and data analyst, helping college leadership and departments better understand data and use that information to inform decision-making.

Ken Hubbell, a leadership coach with ATD, noted that Clor has helped BMCC move from manual data studies — where the college might scramble to build custom spreadsheets for different reporting agencies — to a more structured data success system. By building upon a cohort-driven data study and focusing on leading indicators with regular data collection and visualization, Clor has been able to help guide the college’s Retention Committee to provide feedback to Student Services that ultimately sets up BMCC students for greater success.


At the most recent Data and Analytics Summit, Clor presented in a session entitled “TCU Strategies for Democratizing Data and Creating a Culture of Evidence,” where she talked about changes in BMCC’s gateway math courses. The college successfully redesigned what had previously been up to a four-semester process to a one-semester process through the Carnegie Math program. This work led to a similar revamp of BMCC’s English gateway courses, from a potential three-semester process to a one- to two- semester process.

Lately, Clor said she has begun examining progress in the summer months to see when recruiting seems to be most effective. She also works with a retention subcommittee to track the progress of semester-to-semester registration “to ensure we are not bogging down students who have already registered but still reaching out to those who need reminders.”
With the semester enrollment reports she has recently begun to produce, Clor examines student demographics, success rates in gateway courses and the first-year experience, withdrawals, and other key data that, when pulled together, gives BMCC a clearer picture of the student experience and opportunities to increase success.

Of the college’s data when she began this work, Clor said, “There were pieces of the puzzle scattered everywhere. We are now able to collect those pieces, put them together, and see what our picture looks like.”


In addition to course redesigns and administrative changes that support student success, BMCC’s culture of communication and collaboration has also been impacted. Early in the process, the college established the Enrollment Management Committee, composed of faculty and staff from across the college who regularly review and discuss data on student success.

“Members of the committee are quick to ask questions, make suggestions, and offer feedback,” Clor said. “This has only improved the use of the data we collect. We are now sharing our data across campus regularly. This has opened communication barriers and added a level of transparency and collaboration.”

When asked what advice she would give to institutional researchers beginning to build data capacity at their institutions, Clor said, “My advice is to not just look at the minimum requirements. Go beyond because there are more puzzle pieces left to discover and communication is the key to making those discoveries.”

The partnership between ATD and BMCC has provided the opportunity to support the talent that exists in Native American communities and build capacity from within. Tribal colleges know their students best, and are better equipped than anyone else to consider culture and context when supporting students, in reaffirming their identities and building stronger communities. ATD works with Bay Mills Community College, as well as 32 other Tribal Colleges and Universities through Project Success, an initiative administered by Ascendium Education Group on behalf of its partners and the U.S. Department of Education.

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