NACAS Perspectives

Written By:
Donna-Jo Pepito
Director of Education and Research Strategy
NACAS
donnajo.pepito@nacas.org

We’re ready to move with you through the uncertainty.

Thoughts on the completion of our first Benchmarking survey data collection period

We are past the halfway point of 2020 and what a year this has turned out to be! Like many of you, the team at NACAS had big expectations to look forward to this year. For me, I was looking forward to finally feeling “settled” at work after a couple of years of everything feeling so new. For the last four years since I’ve been at NACAS, we have been aggressive in our efforts to revitalize our association – we hired 70% of the staff you see today, we went through a rebrand, revamped our in-person events, innovated our membership benefits, and saw significant membership growth. I’m so proud of what our team of staff and volunteers have been able to accomplish in (actually) a short amount of time.

A large lift during all of this was the creation of the first-ever NACAS Benchmarking program – a new benefit free for members to participate. We were intentional about building this program from the onset. It took years of planning through focus groups, membership studies, surveys, strategic planning, an RFP process, and then the actual creation of our survey and metrics in partnership with our tremendous volunteers. Building this program has been a labor of love and we have so much to celebrate and reflect on now that we have officially closed year one of data collection. Personally, I’m reflecting on three big points:

  1. NACAS Benchmarking is a benefit that was requested by and built for our members. It is the only NACAS membership benefit that is data-driven and has a direct operational impact on our members’ campus services. It has been so rewarding to support and witness all facets of our organization coming together to meet this end. While the timing of the pandemic had an impact on our experience, I’m also so grateful we launched this program this year so we have a baseline of data that is pre-coronavirus times.
  2. This is the first benchmarking program (that we know of) collecting information across auxiliary services. We can no longer afford the time or resources of siloed data analysis for your business decisions. Inclusive customer service and data need to be collaborative. Our benchmarking data provides the threads that tie auxiliary portfolios together, contributing to the collective good of your communities: Staff, faculty, students, parents, alumni… the list goes on.
  3. The buzzwords of “data-driven decision-making” are not for budgetary purposes only. We embarked on this effort with the vision that our data would be able to prove auxiliary services’ impact on student success in the long-term. And now, in a time where racism and social inequities have been highlighted amidst a global pandemic and widespread uncertainty, I am steadfast in believing that our NACAS Benchmarking program will eventually collect enough data to help further center our industries on our mission at NACAS: Enriching the campus experience.

There is so much more to say, complain about, uplift (and forget) about this year. Yes, 2020 has been horrible in so many ways. Yes, there are also silver-linings and great learnings to celebrate. However, uncertainty continues to permeate through a few existential questions: What is the future of higher education? How do auxiliaries remain relevant in a more virtual campus environment? What does this economy mean for me, my team, and our students’ futures? While many are questioning when we will be “back to normal,” I argue that we should not go back to the normal we once knew.

We need to continue to work together to ensure that our students can be successful during this time of rapid transformation within our society. According to our 2019 NACAS Research data on student success, students define “success” through words like happiness, fulfillment, determination, and growth. Student community, access to staff, and university mental health and wellness services are amongst the most critical factors to achieving success. While much remains unclear about our future, we know that the current world climate demands change. We have to work quickly and efficiently to address issues like the enrollment projections crisis and students’ health and wellness needs. NACAS is committed to working alongside our members and business partners to provide the tools and resources necessary to move into this next stage. If you have suggestions for how we can help, or if you would like to contribute educational content, please feel free to contact me at donnajo.pepito@nacas.org. We’re ready to move with you through the uncertainty.

Donna-Jo Pepito is the Director of Education and Research Strategy at NACAS. Her background is in student unions and operations. She is a California native and a former student and staff at the University of California, Berkeley.