UT System Makes Data Transparent & Visual


In higher-education, the sprawling University of Texas System is garnering kudos for its chancellor's vision of excellence and its commitment to data transparency. The significance hasn't gone unnoticed in analytics circles, either.

The focus is on the UT System Productivity Dashboard, a public portal providing an open view into performance across the system's 15 campuses and system administration. (See: Lassoing Insights From Texas-Size Data.) Anybody -- Texas legislators, the media, any other Texans, and even you or me, if we'd be so inclined -- can explore the data through the dashboard.

Earlier this week at SAS Global Forum 2013, SAS named UT System as the winner of its Excellence in Education award. The honor is meant to spotlight "an educational organization using SAS to improve operations, empower leaders, prepare students for today's workforce, spark innovation, and/or expand educational opportunities," the company explained in its announcement.

The base dashboard, not even two years old yet, is impressive. It's organized around the Framework for Excellence the chancellor and regents created in May 2011, centering on core indicators such as student success, faculty productivity, research and technology transfer, and finance and productivity. "It's one way that we can chart our institution's progress on achieving the chancellor's goals set forth for us," explained Stephanie Huie, vice chancellor, ad interim, for the UT System Office of Strategic Initiatives.

Previously, Huie's team presented UT System a big fact book in static, PDF format. The dynamic, centralized nature of the dashboard much more appropriately addresses the regents' data-orientation, she told me in a phone interview. "The regents, legislators, and constituents were asking tough questions. They really wanted to look at different aspects of the data, and they didn't want just one year. They might want to look at data over time, by gender, race, or ethnicity, for example."

With the BI dashboard, users can manipulate the data, pulling what they want to see and downloading into Excel spreadsheets for even deeper dive statistical analysis or cross tabulations, Huie said. "The dashboard gives them the freedom to let their ideas guide them where they want to go."

The dashboard is chart and graph heavy, of course -- a rolling 10 years' worth of data accessed from the centralized data warehouse built in conjunction with this project. But now the dashboard includes a new "New Data Visualizations" section, too, for a more advanced slice on the data. Huie's team is using the SAS Visual Analytics data visualization and exploration tool to create specialized reports that build context around the data on important issues, like student debt, she said. "So with the Visual Analytics reports, we're not just saying, 'Here's the data on student debt.' We're saying, 'Here's some contextual information, our student debt compared to national student debt and statewide student debt.' "

Visualizing Student Debt
This is one example of the advanced reporting UT System makes available using SAS Visual Analytics.
This is one example of the advanced reporting UT System makes available using SAS Visual Analytics.

From an iPad, users can view the data visualizations in the Visual Analytics app, taking the insight with them wherever they may go, Huie added.

With the BI dashboard and advanced data visualization keeping all things transparent, it's understandable that the UT System is fielding inquiries from other systems of higher ed within and outside of Texas, as well as from Educause, an association that uses IT to advance higher education. "This is the way higher ed is going, with more data being made available to the public," Huie noted. "But then the big questions are, 'How do you organize the data? How do you go about getting the data? How do you store it, and present it?' That's a long, complicated process."

Go ahead, play around in the dashboard and with the new data visualizations, then come back here and share your impressions.

Beth Schultz, Editor in Chief

Beth Schultz has more than two decades of experience as an IT writer and editor.  Most recently, she brought her expertise to bear writing thought-provoking editorial and marketing materials on a variety of technology topics for leading IT publications and industry players.  Previously, she oversaw multimedia content development, writing and editing for special feature packages at Network World. In particular, she focused on advanced IT technology and its impact on business users and in so doing became a thought leader on the revolutionary changes remaking the corporate datacenter and enterprise IT architecture. Beth has a keen ability to identify business and technology trends, developing expertise through in-depth analysis and early adopter case studies. Over the years, she has earned more than a dozen national and regional editorial excellence awards for special issues from American Business Media, American Society of Business Press Editors, Folio.net, and others.

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Re: impressive
  • 5/7/2013 7:52:49 AM
NO RATINGS

It seems like everyone - colleges, bankers, college financing counselors -- profit at the expense of students

Re: impressive
  • 5/7/2013 1:32:26 AM
NO RATINGS

What really doesn't make sense is the government loaning out government money for student loans, but fees and interest going to 3rd party service companies. 

If I'm going to pay fees, I'd rather have it go back to the government than a 3rd party shareholder. 

I believe if there was more transparency, a lot of middle men would dissapear. 

Re: impressive
  • 5/6/2013 9:08:19 AM
NO RATINGS

 Higher ed funding is yet another example of a broken system for the most part. As the experts say, this country is heading for a student debt crisis much like the mortgage bust. Scary stuff.

Re: impressive
  • 5/6/2013 9:05:59 AM
NO RATINGS

It's so absurb I have to wonder why the government even bothers.

Re: impressive
  • 5/5/2013 11:33:35 PM
NO RATINGS

We should abolish federal aid. If everyone gets $5,500 from the federal government in the form of a Liam, colleges just increase tuition accordingly. If we ended the government loan program then schools would have to reconsider these exorbitant tuition costs because fewer students would be able to afford it

Re: impressive
  • 5/5/2013 6:43:22 PM
NO RATINGS

I was awarded a few scholarships, it helped, but just a little. 

The average student loan debt is about $25,000 for four years.  For independent students, that also pay living expenses, that amount can be much, much higher. 

Also, what is missing in these figures are credit card debt.  The average student has around $4000 in credit card debt on top of the student loans. However, that amount is actually much higher, because many students also have non-student credit cards.

I would like to see University costs more transparent. Universities are a complex bureaucracy and it is easy to hide costs or bloat budgets. 

Re: impressive
  • 5/4/2013 12:27:27 AM
NO RATINGS

The EFC is a ridiculous arbitrary number that in no way reflects what a family can actually afford. Essentially if it is higher than 5500, you get little or nothing!

Re: impressive
  • 5/3/2013 1:13:32 PM
NO RATINGS

I heard a rather appalling story last evening having to due with the cost of college attendance. For one family in my daughter's high school, the estimated family contribution (EFC)  kicked out through the FAFSA app was $92,000, presumably because the family had some investments and owned some property -- but nothing they could use to pay tuition without severe penalty and long-term ramifications. The father has been out of work for two years, mind you, so they've suffered major loss of income and this app was for the oldest of 4 kids. Anyways, she was accepted to a prestigious, well-endowed college in the midwest but, naturally with an EFC of $92,000, received no financial support from the institution (or any other). The parents went to talk to the financial advisors there and were told the best the school could do was arrange for an invitation to an alumni cocktail party. Essentially the idea was they would bring the daughter and shop her around, pitching her to wealthy alums who would then fork over scholarship money in her name. 

Now I don't know this family that well, and have no idea on well or not financially situated they are. I do know from experience that the FAFSA EFC in no way mirrors a true assessment of the amount a family can reasonably afford. Regardless, the idea that a school would suggest a potential student go pimp herself to alumni is really appalling to me. 

Isn't it the college's job to seek donors and award accordingly based on academic merit and/or financial need?

That they can get away with doing this sort of stuff is so obnoxious. Worse yet, I'm sure the school is sitting on a mountain of endowments. Urr.

 

 

 

Re: impressive
  • 5/3/2013 12:58:02 PM
NO RATINGS

Yeah 25000 sounds right.  That is too expensive though.  I believe the college system is broken.  I hope the bubble bursts before mine get there.

Re: impressive
  • 5/2/2013 9:19:07 AM
NO RATINGS

Hi Jeff -- this blog definitely glosses over the fact that Huie and her team built a centralized data warehouse for bringing all of the UT System disparate data into one place. That was no small feat, to be sure. I definitely have more good stuff on this implementation to share in future blogs! 

As for college debt, I can tell you with the experience of having twin daughters just having gone through the application/acceptance/financial aid offer/commitment process, that kids offered and accepting federal direct subsidized and unsubsidized loans should expect to be around $25,000 in debt after four years. 

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