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Tilson Uses Data to Drive Student Success

Heather Tilson

Heather Tilson

Las Vegas, NM – For Heather Tilson, data is more than numbers and trends. Data is a story about real people and their successes and struggles.

For Tilson, who joined Highlands May 3 as the university’s director of institutional effectiveness and research, the institution’s data and the lives reflected in the numbers painted a compelling narrative.

“The majority of the population we are serving has been traditionally underserved,” Tilson said. “Highlands, because of our area, can provide educational opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t exist.”

Tilson said she sees a strong connection between the university’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Research and Highlands’ overall educational and economic impact.

“We have to craft data-centered stories, so the executive leaders of the institution are making data-driven decisions.”

Highlands President Sam Minner said it is important to him and the university to have a leader in the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Research who understands Highlands’ commitment to student opportunity and success.

“Dr. Tilson’s extensive background in higher education reflects a passionate advocate for making the world a better place, one student at a time.”

Tilson, who’s dissertation was a case study of community college online adult learners, said it’s important for colleges and universities to focus on meeting students where they are.

“If students don’t have an elder who had access to higher education, they probably won’t go in that direction unless someone intervenes or that have some exposure to a university,” said Tilson, who earned her doctorate in educational leadership and learning technologies, at Drexel University in 2003. “It’s the students who might not know how to navigate the higher education system that we can have the largest impact.”

One of the most important aspects of Tilson’s position is overseeing the university’s continuing standing with Highlands’ regional accrediting agency, the Higher Learning Commission. The university was first accredited in 1926 when it was New Mexico Normal University and has been continuously accredited since. Highlands will undergo a standard accreditation comprehensive evaluation by the Higher Learning Commission in 2022.

“I want to create a high level of collaboration because everyone’s involved with accreditation,” Tilson said. We need to put together a strong plan for another successful accreditation visit.”