• Special Feature / Interview
  • 04.17.19

Analytics Serve Important Role for Analysis, Benchmarking

  • by eAIR

eAIR recently spoke with Laura Bageant, AVP Data & Analytics, University of North Carolina System, about data, analytics, and using dashboards for data analysis and benchmarking.

LauraBeAIR: As someone who didn't start out in the analytics field, how did you work your way into your current position of Associate VP for Data and Analytics?

My short answer would be that I have always been enamored with data and that I have learned valuable skills and lessons along the way that let me take advantage of great career opportunities.  

Some of the skills that helped me are project management principles, business principles with focus on IT and analysis, and SAS programming. The key lessons involve appreciation of our team and the importance of balance. UNC has an awesome analytics infrastructure because of our teams of bright and capable analysts and developers who work well together. Balance is important in terms of work-life and in terms of seriousness. We take our work seriously, but we also enjoy what we do, have some fun, and don’t take ourselves too seriously. 

My gravitation to analytics probably resembles others who land in the Institutional Research or IR arena. As a kid I helped with my granddad’s finances in Lotus 1-2-3.  That was fun for me. I could help my granddad and play with numbers on the computer.  As a teenage hospital volunteer, I was the only one who asked to work in the business office. Fast forward to my first job in higher ed. I didn’t know what IR was. It was our Provost at the time who told me what I was doing in my down time in admissions -- playing with tuition sensitivity analyses and enrollment projections -- was IR. Who knew? Thanks to those who have advanced the IR profession to truly be recognized as decision support and analytics. My time in admissions and my Myers Briggs type confirm that I am a much better analyst than I was an admissions recruiter.

eAIR: Can you tell us a little bit about the Insight analytics platform that takes UNC campus reported data and converts it into usable dashboards for data analysis and benchmarking?

Absolutely. Our analytics platform leverages our data warehouse.  Through our student and HR data marts, we bring raw data nightly from the 16 universities in the UNC System into our data warehouse.  Within the data warehouse, we join raw data into reportable data sets, including calculated fields.  Challenges we realized in 2016 was the need to make these datasets more easily accessible to the campus users, the data suppliers, and to make the information more consumable to our stakeholders.  Insight, our analytics platform managed by HelioCampus, answers these challenges and then some.        

The Insight analytics platform allows us to securely store UNC System data in the cloud, Amazon Redshift, and to provision direct access to our campus users.  No more uploading and downloading.  Campuses have the option to upload their own institution-specific data and we have the ability to share third party data such as IPEDS datasets, used for benchmarking, or National Student Clearinghouse files.  We can do the work one time by the UNC System Office or by HelioCampus and save our universities from having to duplicate work 16 times.

This platform enables us and our campuses to connect multiple reporting tools.  We have public Strategic Plan and InfoCenter dashboards on our main website.  We and our campuses have privileged dashboards available to our respective internal audiences via Tableau.  Our analysts and HelioCampus data scientists use SAS, R, and Python for sophisticated analytics. 

eAIR: What are some other key UNC data projects in which you have been an integral part?

We didn’t start off knowing we wanted an analytics platform.  We knew we needed “better data faster”, to quote one of our IR Directors.  So the project to design, build, and implement the Student Data Mart was by far the most involved project on which I worked.

Our Reverse Transfer project led the timeline for our Student Data Mart.  We designed the data and infrastructure needed to bring in data from 16 universities and then provision the Reverse Transfer data to 58 community colleges in North Carolina so they could evaluate students who may qualify for an associate’s degree.

There are also some less attractive projects like server migrations and software version upgrades that were necessary, but far less exciting.  

I will also be involved as we begin to look at bringing financial information into our data ecosystem.  

eAIR: How do you believe using SAS has helped to impact student success within the UNC System?

We are incredibly fortunate to have SAS, the company, in North Carolina. Their support for UNC is invaluable. 

SAS, the application, is our primary tool for analyzing student data. Our Data & Analytics team all use SAS. Our university IR and other teams also use SAS heavily. Our strategic planning focuses on student success and work in SAS supplies all of the data supporting the student-centered goals in the strategic plans.  

Work in SAS directly supported our successful award for the Reverse Transfer or “Credit When it is Due” grant that has led to more than 5,000 associate’s degrees being awarded since Spring 2016.

Our Data & Analytics team is actively working a predictive analytics agenda around student retention and “admit to graduate” models.