Oklahoma State University visualizes data ‘til the cows come home


Oklahoma State University (OSU) has corralled its data faster than a tumbleweed in a whirlwind, and has bold plans to transform its institutional research efforts. I recently met with OSU's Institutional Research and Information Management (IRIM) team, which provides information, research, decision support, and analysis on demand to the OSU community and effectively manages institutional performance.

In a conversation at SAS Global Forum, Christie Hawkins, Assoc. Vice President for Administration and Finance and Director of IRIM, Larry Burns, Assistant Director of IRIM, and Randy Kitchens, Coordinator of IRIM, shared their journey to using data visualization and dashboards. They’ve been on a mainframe for decades, mainly working with Excel. Converting to Banner revealed a need for better reporting, complete with interactive reports, data visualization, dashboards and the ability to drill down into information.

Quick, dynamic fact book in a few months

Both IT and IR report to the same Senior VP, which streamlined processes. The OSU team got SAS Visual Analytics in May/June 2017 and the dashboards went live in October 2017. As part of the solution they received a day and a half of SAS knowledge transfer. Using this new knowledge they had a demo ready for university leaders within two days. An enrollment report, broken down by college, demonstrated the immediate value the project delivered.

In one week, IRIM recreated 75-85 percent of the OSU online fact book reports in SAS Visual Analytics. Their static fact book was now interactive and dynamic. Check it out: The Student Profile is OSU's fact book. The OSU fact book contains various statistical breakdowns of the current student body, past enrollment trends, retention and graduation rates, degrees granted and projections of future enrollment.

A 360-degree view of the student

The university president’s top priority was first year retention. Working with the new First Year Success office, the IRIM team created a 360-degree view of the student to bolster freshman performance.

Previously, engagement counselors had to look at 13 screens and four different systems to get a full view of a freshman. They needed the student Banner ID to retrieve demographic information, remediation or current schedule. Other systems provided past schedules, mid-term grades, academic alerts, bursar (for unmet need), and campus life information (wellness, dining, etc.), and card swipe information.

Now, tabbed reports automatically produce demographic, grade performance and bursar balance. Additionally, campus life information, such as wellness center visits and student event attendance, is incorporated. The First Year Success office also includes data on participation in first-year programs and visits to advisors which are bellwethers of freshman engagement. The IRIM team hopes to collect similar data beyond freshman year to help advisors keep more students on track to graduate. 

Unexpected benefits of data visualization

OSU’ data visualization journey unearthed unexpected insights in data. Flaws in the data were unmistakable once visualized. For instance, a student taking a class at midnight clearly indicates an issue with the data, one that may not have been spotted in a huge file of scheduling data. Visualization now allows the team to easily spot data abnormalities.

OSU can also understand reports more quickly and easily. For instance, a department head can now see the frequency with which students in their college change majors. A bubble chart showing retention by department reveals how many students are above or below the enrollment target, by degree. Deans can easily determine which department has lower retention rates and can focus resources to boost retention.

Previously, this information was in table format, making it nearly impossible to spot patterns or trends in data. Now, OSU leaders can easily access important information to make decisions faster and easier.

Partnering with SAS and making connections

Excited by their initial success, the IRIM team is ready to tackle new data challenges. IRIM is set to apply predictive analytics to answer critical questions about first year retention. SAS connected IRIM with a nearby expert, Lisa Moore from the University of Oklahoma, to learn more about the predictive enrollment models she created using SAS Enterprise Miner.

In addition, SAS linked IRIM with Dr. Goutam Chakraborty, Professor of Marketing and Director of the M.S. in Business Analytics program at the OSU Spears School of Business. Dr. Chakraborty hosts an annual SAS Analytics Day to connect OSU’s MS in Business Analytics’ students with members of the business community to cultivate a thriving professional network. It also convenes national and regional speakers to share expertise and knowledge with the Oklahoma business and analytics community. At SAS’ suggestion, the IRIM attended, and have even hired a student from Dr. Chakraborty’s program to help the team build dashboards on classroom utilization. They can now see trends from semester to semester, which previously took months, and can easily know if they have adequate classroom capacity.

More exciting things to come - future analytics plans

Now that the IRIM team has accomplished so much, they are not slowing down. They have more analyses that want to do, including:

  • Enrollment – They plan to automate this report so they can see week over week changes by year.
  • Career services – They want to be able to view graduate hiring and salary trends over years.
  • Purchasing – They'd like to understand if there are analytics opportunities for cost savings.
  • Recruitment: They want a report that shows applied/admitted/enrolled by college and other demographics compared to previous years.

Interested in learning more? Check out Ten Tips for Using Data Visualization and Analytics Effectively in Education. You can also hear more from customers on how they’re using data visualization and analytics in this education analytics blog series.


About Author

Georgia Mariani

Principal Product Marketing Manager

Georgia Mariani has spent nearly a quarter-century exploring and sharing how analytics can improve outcomes. As a Principal Industry Marketing Manager at analytics leader SAS, supporting the education industry, she passionately showcases customers using analytics to tackle important education issues and help students succeed. Georgia received her M.S. in Mathematics with a concentration in Statistics from the University of New Orleans.

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