How University of Texas System uses data visualization to bring in more transparency into their system?

This is the third and concluding post in our Data Visualization in Education series where we showcase how different universities are using data visualization in a meaningful way.

 The University of Texas (UT) System encompasses 15 educational institutions in the U.S. state of Texas, of which nine are academic universities and six are health institutions. The UT System is headquartered in Austin, and has a total enrollment of over 216,000 students and employs more than 87,000 faculty and staff. For more than 130 years, The University of Texas System has been committed to improving the lives of Texans and people all over the world through education, research and health care.

Each year, UT’s academic institutions award more than one-third of all undergraduate degrees in Texas, and its health institutions grant two-thirds of all health professional degrees. In addition, UT System health professions provide care to millions of patients each year, and UT System faculty and students are engaged in cutting-edge research and making significant discoveries that benefit society. Needless to say, all this generates a lot of data.

The University of Texas System logo

As Vice Chancellor, ad interim, for UT System’s Office of Strategic Initiatives, Stephanie A. Bond Huie leads a team of researchers and policy analysts that makes sense of all the data from the system’s nine academic and six health institutions. “Data is the foundation for wise decisions,” Huie says. “But it’s not always obvious what questions you should be asking. That’s especially true given the volumes of data that a central administrative office like the UT System collects and manages.”

One of the means through which they transform all that data into valuable insights is data visualization

UT System Productivity Dashboard

Huie’s team is building a Productivity Dashboard, a Web-based business intelligence system that facilitates extracting and analyzing institutional data. Its purpose is to provide current data, trends over time, and comparative benchmarking across a variety of metrics in support of better decisions and policy-making.

“Through data exploration, the user has an opportunity to make―and evaluate―policy decisions based on information that can reveal multiple perspectives and connections,” Huie says. “It uncovers the answers to questions that we didn’t always know we should be asking. By looking at a well-designed chart or graph, you get an immediate feel for what is going on – something you don’t always get with a table of numbers.”

UT System dashboard home

The dashboard focuses on 4 core indicators―student success, faculty productivity, research and technology transfer, and finance and productivity.

The Student Success Dashboard

UT System Student dashboard

The Student Success Dashboard displays metrics like Degrees Awarded, Degrees Awarded by Ethnicity, Enrollment, Student Faculty Ratio, and so on.

Web Report Studio Student Dashboard

Clicking on a chart takes users into a Web Reports Studio where they can explore the data in more detail. An interesting feature of the Web Reports Studio is the Build a Graph and Build a Table tab which lets users customize their graphs and tables respectively.

Web Report Studio Customized

Items can be added to the graph from the Section Data list (on the left) simply by a drag and drop.

Web Report drag and drop customization

This is the graph we get after we add Gender to the Degrees Awarded graph.

faculty dashboard

The other dashboards namely Faculty Productivity, Research and Technology Transfer, and Finance and Productivity follow similar information architecture.

With these dashboards, users can slice and dice data, pull what they want to see and export into Excel spreadsheets for even deeper dive statistical analysis or cross tabulations. As Huie says, “The dashboard gives them the freedom to let their ideas guide them where they want to go.”

Making data more contextual and mobile-friendly

In January 2013, UT System added a “New Data Visualizations” section to the dashboard which allowed users to create specialized reports that build context around the data on important issues, like student debt. As Huie puts it, “… 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.’ ”

New Data Visualizations Student Debt

Also, earlier the dashboards were designed to work exclusively on PCs.  In 2013, UT System provided a more mobile-friendly means of viewing data. Users could now view the data visualizations from their iPad app, taking the insight with them wherever they may go.

Final Thoughts

By providing an open view into performance across its 15 campuses, UT System is living up to the cause of data transparency. With the Productivity Dashboard, it has not only brought its data out of silos but also has overcome the boundaries of static tables and has made its data more accessible for informed decision-making.

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