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Garbage in, garbage out

Garbage in, garbage out. This old saying reflects the idea that incorrect or poor quality input will almost always produce deficient output. This is certainly true for the data collected annually from the ATS member schools through the ATS Annual Report Form (“ARF”) process. If schools are not careful in providing the data to ATS, the resulting reports and queries will be less accurate and useful.

One school’s data inaccuracies can be multiplied because the data become a part of the benchmarking process. Garbage in becomes not only garbage out but potentially garbage replicated.

ATS schools are right in the midst of the ARF data collection process for the current year. Each October to December, the membership spends a significant number of hours accumulating and analyzing their own data and then submitting the data through the ATS ARF online data forms. The ATS board and staff recognize and acknowledge the substantial resources that are required to accomplish this data collection and reporting. The process is both a burden and benefit of ATS membership. And we continue to seek ways to make sure that the burden is far outweighed by the benefit.

One of the great outcomes of the data collection process is the many different standard reports that are a byproduct. The ATS Annual Data Tables (“ADT”), the ATS Institutional Peer Profile Report (“IPPR”), and the ATS Strategic Information Report (“SIR”) are just a few examples of the outputs that are available to the membership. Samples of these reports can be found at www.ats.edu/resources/institutional-data. For many schools, the IPPR and SIR have become critical tools in their arsenal for considering and making strategic choices at their institutions.

These tools not only convey back what the school itself reported, but they also allow each institution to see its data in comparison to peer schools and industry benchmarks. These strategic appraisals are essential as the school seeks to understand its own operations and students in relation to what other schools are experiencing. If an institution only looks at itself, it may become complacent, may not realistically understand its own situation, or may not be sufficiently self-critical. Frankly, it also may not comprehend the blessing of its circumstances.

Because schools rely on the data and data reports that are provided by ATS, it is imperative that the inputs be as accurate as possible. If a school provides data that are inaccurate, then the result will be inaccurate. This becomes even more important when schools consider that they are part of the benchmarking of other institutions. In this association of graduate theological schools, stewardship extends beyond our own boundaries to those with whom we collaborate in the ecology of theological education. One school’s data inaccuracies can be multiplied because the data become a part of the benchmarking process. Garbage in becomes not only garbage out but potentially garbage replicated.

How has your institution used ATS data in strategic ways? How has the use of data from ATS improved your own data collection and reporting processes?

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