Jason Canales: How data paints a picture

Jason Canales '00How can data help drive decision-making in DEI? Jason Canales ’00 will tell you—and he’s got plenty of examples to offer.

Canales, MCLA’s assistant director of institutional effectiveness and research, is responsible for collecting and analyzing the data MCLA’s leaders need to make informed decisions—and for consulting with faculty and staff about their data and reporting needs.

When it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion work, data is crucial. “When we look at it with a DEI focus, it lets us know where we need to put in an effort. Where are we falling short? Are we doing what we say we do as an institution?” he said.

Information about graduation rates, for example, can tell a story—“we’re really trying to dig into demographic differences, and we have historically seen differences in populations, like our Pell Grant-eligible students and students of color not achieving at the same rates as their peers,” Canales said.

Nationally, non-white populations are growing, and soon, the demographic makeup of high school students will be different, requiring colleges to employ different methods to make sure students succeed. “It’s important to look at those things for students today and in the future,” Canales said. “It’s not only a moral obligation for us that all students should achieve—it’s something we have to do.”

That obligation goes beyond MCLA’s own campus. The College is a member of Bridgewater State University’s Leading for Change Racial Equity and Justice Institute (REJI), which works to identify data-informed strategies intended to close racial educational equity gaps on our campuses and across higher education. REJI member institutions meet on their own and as a larger group in order to learn, share data, and discuss trends.

MCLA’s REJI group is in the first stages of this work, using data to identify equity gaps and strategize around how to close them. The group isn’t just looking at numbers, though—it also uses qualitative data to reveal trends and solutions. “We know, for example, not as many Black students who come to MCLA are graduating within four years—but many are. We want to find out why they stayed, what happened that helped them along their journey as a student,” Canales said.

For Canales, these numbers also represent the depth and breadth of individual college students and the challenges and opportunities they face. “Each of those data points is someone,” he said. “I’m not just presenting numbers. I’m presenting a story about someone’s experience.”

Making sure all those individuals have what they need on their academic journey is at the core of MCLA’s mission, and Canales keeps this in mind. “I am a graduate of MCLA, and I want to see it here for the next 125 years, so that others can get the same thing from MCLA that I got,” he said. “In my mind, every student that walks on this campus should walk across that stage.”