• Article
  • 04.10.20

Three Universities, Six Examples of Innovative Data

  • by Georgia Mariani, Product Marketing Manager, SAS Institute Inc.

"Institutions know they need to innovate to achieve a competitive advantage in today’s complex marketplace, and almost none of today’s innovation can happen without data and technology.” -- Susan Grajek, Vice President, Communities and Research at EDUCAUSE

In today’s turbulent and dynamic world of higher education, data and analytics are essential for anticipating the future and responding proactively to changing trends. Fortunately, there are many colleges and universities blazing a trail for others to follow. This article highlights three universities that are using insight-rich data to uncover trends on enrollment, retention, facilities, and more to improve student performance, institutional effectiveness, and resource optimization.

Oklahoma State University (OSU)

Oklahoma State’s Institutional Research and Information Management (IRIM) team is using data and analytics to streamline reporting and drive data-informed decision making across campus. OSU has been particularly innovative in the areas of retention and classroom utilization.


OSU’s retention dashboards link graduation rates with things like gender, ethnicity, Pell Grant status, ACT scores and other factors. In one report, a bubble chart shows retention by department and reveals how many students are above or below the enrollment target, by degree, so Deans can easily determine which department has lower retention rates and can focus resources. OSU also applies predictive models to data sources such as card swipe data to identify which students are dropout risks and proactively help these students maintain their path toward graduation.

OSU’s freshman retention rate has climbed 1% each of the last 3 years and is now nearly 10 percentage points higher than the national average. According to Dr. Christie Hawkins, IRIM Director at OSU, “Our analytical tools help us better identify incoming students who could benefit from the resources available across OSU. Employing more comprehensive data than has historically been available can significantly improve our understanding of factors contributing to higher first year retention and ultimately student success.”

Classroom Utilization

In the past, the IRIM office performed a tedious, time-consuming manual process to track classroom usage to determine if new classrooms or buildings were needed to meet demand.

With data visualization, the team has streamlined that process – reducing it from months to moments – with a classroom utilization dashboard. Now, university planners can instantly examine classroom capacity for every building at every time of the day, allowing them to renovate existing spaces instead of constructing new buildings, in some cases.

With better information at hand, administrators began asking more sophisticated questions. “Being able to look at data in new ways really changed our culture,” said Hawkins. “Our team can now easily spot data abnormalities, see trends from semester to semester, and can easily know if they have adequate classroom capacity.”

University of Idaho (UI)

The University of Idaho wanted to delve into their data and investigate patterns and analyze trends. Their goal was to provide insights to administrators, so they could determine ways to improve student and institutional success. They committed to the hard work of effective data governance, which has led to greater recruitment and enrollment success.

Data Governance and Reporting

Good data governance ensures that administrators have access to trusted, insight-rich data for self-service reporting. UI standardized the way data was used across the institution to foster consistency across all internal decision making processes. By making data available via self-service reporting, administrators can now use their time more efficiently and proactively drive student and institutional success.

Recruitment and Enrollment

Once they had their data and reporting well underway, they turned to analytics. Analytics models supported a shift to need-based financial aid, which allowed UI to enroll an additional 20 to 25 students who previously may not have been able to afford higher education. This equated to a gain of roughly $500,000 a year.

Predictive modeling and analytics help UI understand relationships and supports more sophisticated designs and research into how UI can best to serve its students, according to Dale Pietrzak, former Director of Institutional Effectiveness and Accreditation (IEA), UI.

University of North Texas (UNT)

UNT has been on a journey to fundamentally reengineer its data, reporting and analytics landscape. Here are two examples of their innovative use of data and analytics that resulted in large savings for the university.

Optimizing Bus Routes

Using a clever but simple data visualization, UNT created a heat map of student housing overlaid on top of bus transportation routes. This analysis exposed an opportunity to eliminate some of the buses while retaining adequate transportation options resulting in an additional $450,000 in savings.

Drop-Fail-Withdraw-Incomplete (DFWI) Rates

By harnessing the power of data visualization, administrators were able to view a four-year trend for DFWI rates, revealing patterns to investigate. As a result, policies and procedures were changed, retention rates rose across FTIC (first time in college) and transfer populations, leading to better student outcomes and significant savings.

Following retention savings of $450,000 in 2018, UNT had even greater success last year. According to Jason Simon, Assistant Vice President for Data Analytics and Institutional Research, “While causation doesn’t equal correlation, the increased use of data, data governance, analytic product proliferation, and data-informed decision making contributed to gains across the board.”

Total enrollment soared nearly 11%, including a 15% increase in enrollment of FTIC freshmen. 4-year and 6-year graduation rates both increased by 2.4%. FTIC and transfer student retention rates also increased. All this contributed to an additional estimated $2.3 million in retention savings.

More Information

Want to learn more about OSU, UI and UNT? Check out how Oklahoma State University created an analytical culture and learn more about their analytics journey. Hear about University of Idaho’s views on data governance and analytics. Read UNT’s paper - Building an Analytical Culture for Success: How the University of North Texas created a new data landscape and hear how they established a culture of analytics.