When senior leaders at the University of Louisville (UofL) approached Vice Provost Bob Goldstein in early April 2016 with a request for a fully functioning data visualization platform by start of the 2016 fall semester—just four months away—he did not panic.
Instead, Goldstein, along with Becky Patterson, Executive Director of Institutional Research and Planning, and her team, were able to create a primary data platform to support the university’s strategic planning process in just 60 days using SAS! The platform was expanded and released to deans, associate deans and other academic leaders within 90 days of the product acquisition, and in time for the start of the fall term.
The platform includes data on a wide range of strategic focus areas — academics, student persistence and success, diversity, philanthropy, research spending, budgets, and more — to help UofL senior leaders make decisions in line with UofL’s 2020 strategic plan and measure progress toward those goals.
I was excited to chat with Goldstein and Patterson about how they made this happen with such an aggressive timeline.
What were your original goals/objectives for this project?
When UofL began our journey, it was to create a data visualization platform that would facilitate the strategic and academic planning processes for senior leadership. The goal was to make the data readily accessible in order to drive the establishment and implementation of the university’s strategic agenda and priorities. Senior leadership wanted the data visualization platform to be available to the academic units so they can strategically prioritize projects and initiatives to support UofL’s 2020 strategic plan and the recently announced 21st Century University Initiative.
UofL needed the platform to be quite extensive and include the broad areas of focus outlined within the 21st Century University Initiative.
In order to achieve this directive, was executive support required?
Absolutely. Using data to support strategic and academic planning has been, and continues to be, a priority for university senior leadership.
Who are the consumers of the reports?
Primarily it is the senior academic leadership—deans and associate deans, as well as the senior staff within the Provost’s office. The long-term plan is to grant access to academic department and program chairpersons. Presently, UofL has a controlled deployment of the data visualizations. Since June 2016, 35 dynamic reports have been created and published. About 20 additional reports are currently in development. Our team continues to work with university leadership by seeking input about the data that will be most useful to their decision making processes.
In what ways has this changed the way you are doing reporting?
It has allowed UofL to have the required data granularity. Reports can filter down to the academic program. The platform effectively visualizes the data with minimal training needed for report consumers. The data visualizations provide a systematic approach to presenting information about the university.
How were you doing this type of reporting before?
Multiple print-outs with limited data visualization along with summaries of key performance indicators. The previous process was entrenched with the development of lengthy SAS print-outs that required the manual creation of summary tables to detect trends.
Has this freed up time for Becky and her staff?
Both yes and no. The use of the data visualization platform has created an incredible thirst across the university. We have received several helpful suggestions about how the data should be presented. We continue to expand the number of reports available through the platform, which requires time. Great potential to free up more time in the future certainly exists.
Can you share any feedback you have received from these users?
The platform has created a lot of interest and a great deal of positive feedback. People are excited to see the data visualized and use the information to inform some of their strategic and academic planning. The data visualizations allow end users to discern trends and identify areas of potential growth.
What can your team do now that they couldn’t do before?
The overall objective was to provide access to a breadth of reports that enhances the leadership’s capacity to use the data for strategic and academic planning. This is now all achieved via one platform, with the data in one place, which allows for easy categorization of reports with direct links to documents describing the methodology employed and the definitions used.
Are you confident in the results?
Yes, we have confidence and trust in the quality of the platform. When somebody has a question or a concern around the data it generally is that they don’t understand the definitions employed or some of the inherent nuances within the data.
Where are your overall thoughts on the platform?
SAS Visual Analytics has been a great choice. The value-add of the SAS platform is that it enables much clearer visualizations of the data than we were previously able to employ. Users are able to get quick, clear, dynamic access to the data when previously they needed to cull it from a variety of static reports.
What are your future plans for the platform?
The potential here is seemingly endless. It is incredibly exciting to explore the possibilities for how we can create a comprehensive platform of the university’s information and data. We are planning to grow this platform for use in our academic program review process, enrollment management planning, and other strategic initiatives. We also are looking into incorporating other sources of data with regard to faculty productivity. We will use the platform as a vehicle to draw in other metrics for sources of university performance data. Ideally, we would also like to be able to have a public-facing portal with more general information about the university.
Interested in learning more? Read the e-book: Ten Tips for Using Data Visualization and Analytics Effectively in Education which provides a compilation of best practices from several education institutions. Also, the SAS higher education website has more information on how we partner with universities to help with their data, analytics and reporting needs.