Flows of Dollars Within a University

John Leonard
Associate Dean, Finance and Administration
College of Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology
 
I gave a presentation on the flow of dollars within the university to one of our department-level advisory boards. This particular audience included many engineering grads now serving as CFOs and COOs of large supply-chain and logistics companies, so I developed a presentation that was both visually appealing and would convey the complexity of fund-based accounting within a large research university. Below are two screen shots of PowerPoint slides I created using Sankey diagrams
 
Each visual display combines sources of dollars (e.g., tuition, state appropriation, sponsored, foundation, and other funds) with IPEDS programs (e.g., instruction, research, student aid, plant, etc.) and destinations of funds within the university (e.g., business units, colleges and schools/departments) into a single colorful chart.  
 
For the approximately $1.6B in FY2013 raw expenditures (unaudited) the first chart shows how much (and the percentage of the total) comes from each major source and the purpose/program for which the dollars are used.  For example, the chart shows about $482M in sponsored dollars flowing to both research and to student aid. GENX-Tuition flows to support research, instruction, plant costs, academic support, institutional support and student aid. Research is funded by sponsored dollars, state appropriation, indirect cost recoveries and some tuition and flows to colleges (Resident Instruction) and our separately operating Research Institute.
 
The “from-to” aggregate dollar flows came from our general ledger. I fed data into a JavaScript applet embedded in a web page, viewed the rendered HTML page, and snipped the screen for dropping into the PowerPoint presentation. In the future I plan to automate the process so that I can regularly produce JPEGs for use in various reports. 
 
sankey1.jpg
 
sankey2.jpg
 

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Total Comments: 11
 
Betsy posted on 11/13/2013 1:44 PM
The first slide seems interesting and effective for giving a very quick picture of money flows, while the second one is harder to interpret and I'm not sure it communicates what you want it to. Snipping from the web site also seems to truncate your full set of data.

In general, I think the technique can be very effective if you review the aggregation and detail levels of your categories. For instance "Research" covers diverse topics and "Sponsored" must include many different sponsors. On the other hand, the level of detail that puts about 6% of the budget into 6 categories seems to beg for aggregation even though admittedly they are disparate items. Maybe a broader "student/faculty services" might work. With fewer and broader flows, you could then selectively break out some of the colored bars to the left or the right with their components.
Terry posted on 11/13/2013 4:22 PM
I like this illustration because I think for most of colleges' budget processes are an inscrutable mystery. Some of the connections may be hard to follow, particularly in the second graphic (IT IS a complex process)but anybody who views the graphs will perceive that there IS a connection.
Gail posted on 11/13/2013 4:48 PM
A bit hard for an outsider to interpret since your "code names" are unfamiliar to me and I had to read the introduction part before I caught on to the flow lines. But given you were there to explain it I bet the audience liked it. Nice change from tables. I really like how you are showing several ideas at the same time. Probably best as a way to get an idea across rather than a way to show exact numbers or results.
Ghenet posted on 11/13/2013 6:16 PM
The first power point slide is demonstrates a good utilization of a Sankey diagram because it contains fewer items or variables. However, it needs key to the terms so that a reader can understand the link among the source, purpose and entity.
In the second power point contains too much data and as such it is not easy to connect source to purpose. Some of the lines are too tiny and too many lines crossing each other. It might be better to find alternative ways such as creating subgroup based on the nature of source and purpose of expenditure.
Nina posted on 11/13/2013 8:02 PM
The display is visually appealing but as a lay person it was a little hard to follow and the second one seemed a little 'busy'. However it does have a lot of information and to the right audience gives a comprehensive snapshot.
Scott posted on 11/13/2013 8:21 PM
This makes me think of other "pipeline" data that are used regularly in higher education. I'm thinking of admissions and enrollment of different categories of applicants, perhaps even including feeder schools. Or placement/skills test outcomes and subsequent course-taking. Another is the change of majors, although this risks fragmentation into too many combinations. In short I think it's a great tool to consider; thank you for sharing your work!
Bob posted on 11/14/2013 10:05 AM
John, these are very interesting charts and an interesting way to present flow data. I am very impressed. I wonder, though, have you considered using different colors for each flow? For example, funds flowing from GenX-Tuition would be colored a light green, similar to the light green representing the GexX-Tuition funds. In that way, the flow of funds to different uses would be easier to follow. This would be especially helpful in the second chart with its labyrinth of flow lines.
Tim posted on 11/14/2013 3:38 PM
The "flowing" effect this illistration is a great metaphor for how expenditures are funded. The second slide is a bit more complicated with ifnormation, but i think that also highlights the complexity with which you are working. If this were the sequence in the presentation, I believe it would highlight how they become more intricate.
Jim posted on 11/15/2013 8:12 AM
Carleton College has recently used an interactive Sankey diagram to show the career paths of its graduates, broken out by major. One can drill down from general career to specific job function, or backwards from career to major. See: https://apps.carleton.edu/career/visualize
Ijay posted on 11/15/2013 1:06 PM
Its quite interesting to see this illustration as complicated and as mysterious as dollar flows in any organization, whether learning institutions,public or private organizations.A simple or casual glance cannot understand that,unles one takes a cursory look. The first illustration is even simpler than the second.For someone who loves artistic designs,he will pay attention,but to someone whose mind is devoid of art appreciation,its vague.This is an intelligent piece.
Katie posted on 11/19/2013 12:38 PM
Thank you for sharing your work. I appreciate that you created a visual display of information that was targeted to your audience of engineering grads. Because of the extensive number of gray flow lines to follow, perhaps a more simple slide style would be better (e.g. no decoration/watermark on the right side of the slide). I appreciate the attempt to create something unique and tailored to the audience. I agree with other comments about the second (lower) slide. There are so many lines that it becomes a bit overwhelming. Even if a reader was only interested in one source of dollars (e.g. GENX-Tuition), it becomes a bit difficult to follow all the flow lines. Reviewing this definitely makes me think about alternative data sets that might be uniquely presented using Sankey diagrams.