How to Lead by Numbers

Finding a solution to a complex problem

Hello friends!

It certainly has been a while since I’ve written here. My excuse is that I moved into a new home, and it discombobulated me! Most of these blog posts get written at home, usually late at night, but my evenings were taken up with the whole moving thing. We’re in our new place now and, as of last night, most of the boxes are empty. Phew!

What’s prompted me to get back on the blogging band-wagon is a question that arose because my office has just spent a whole whack of time running hundreds of reports to produce what we call:


 My office produces a census ever fall, spring and summer, on a scheduled Census Day. That day was exactly one week ago. Our Adds/Drops ended on Wednesday, which gave us Thursday to clean up course registration data and to solve anything weird that showed up. Then on Friday most of the day was taken up running reports, gathering data, and putting it into the Census format and posting it for the TWU community to see.

It is basically a whole bunch of numbers: how many students we have is the big number, then that’s broken down 311 different ways, from the average class size (by year) right down to the number of students that come from Winfield, BC or Field, Alberta. In the end, the report, if printed, is 50 pages long each year. Ugh! That’s a lot of numbers!

This raises that age old question: if statistics don’t lie but statisticians do, what’s the role of the Registrar?

No, no, no! We are not liars! You jumped to that conclusion much too easily, my friend. Registrars are very trustworthy people, unlike certain other professions…

All joking aside, I believe that when we play the role of statistician, we can do so relatively politics-free (for the most part). I’m not advocating that we stay disengaged. Far from it. We have the responsibility of tracking and reporting a lot of numbers, and it would be disappointing if we merely took the non-involvement method of “just reporting numbers.” Rather, I believe it’s our responsibility to take the bull by the horns to share the data to show other leaders in our universities what must be done. And for the most part, we don’t have a personal stake in what the numbers show us, so this keeps us relatively politics-free.

For example, this Census Day has given my office the opportunity to lead by numbers. Fortunately, this year, almost everything looks great as far as enrolment at TWU, but we have noticed one interesting tidbit. For the first time since we’ve been running the Census, we have WAY more students in first year (0-26 credit hours) than we admitted.

“Hmm,” we said. “What’s going on here?” So we ran some additional numbers and found that over the past two years the number of students taking 9-12 credits per semester has grown substantially, while the number of students who are taking 12-15 hours has dropped substantially. Even further, the number of students who are taking 16-18 hours has plummeted! Consequently, we have a pile-up of students who have not progressed to the second year (based on hours). This will affect our graduation rate and many other things, and it just might signal some problems for the future. I noted this in a report to the President and now we have everyone from the Pricing Committee to Financial Aid and the Provost’s Office looking into this. Senate will also have a look at it in the near future. I have no idea what conclusions will come from this, but I do feel a sense of satisfaction that we’ve done our job – we’ve led by numbers.

And hopefully avoided being accused of lying 🙂


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