If a student is struggling only a few weeks into the semester – missing classes or
getting failing grades – you’d want to know. You wouldn’t want to find out after next
week’s report comes in. You’d want to know today, so you could identify at-risk
students in time to reach out, offer help and keep them on track.
The fastest-growing university in the state for 13 years in a row, Western Kentucky
University serves nearly 21,000 students on four campuses. Originally chartered in
1906 as a teacher’s training college, the school moved to its main campus on “the
Hill,” 135 feet above downtown Bowling Green, more than 100 years ago.
Growing far beyond its roots, WKU now encompasses six colleges and offers more
than 170 choices for undergraduate areas of study and more than 80 graduate-level
degrees and certificates.
The university’s Office of Institutional Research (IR) is the hub for data management,
analysis and reporting for all these students, faculty, programs and courses. This
information is essential for decision support. For example, current and historical
enrollment data is used for planning, recruitment, staffing and scheduling decisions.
Attendance and grade data is core to demonstrating that students and the university
are successfully meeting their respective academic missions.
For more than 16 years, the IR office has used Base SAS and SAS/STAT® software to
collect, analyze and report this type of information. “We felt we were very responsive
to the needs of our decision makers and constituents,” said Gina Huff, Senior
Applications Programmer Analyst. “We were able to respond to data requests and
answer questions that decision makers had on a pretty timely basis.”
However, data requests could spiral in never-ending loops, whereby one answer leads
to a new question, or a need to look at the data from another angle, or the desire to
look more closely at a certain aspect or to figure out why something is happening.
“Data requests could continue to expand and grow,” said Huff. “With time and
resource constraints, we found ourselves sometimes being more reactive than
proactive. As a team, we had a strong desire to shift that, to enable decision makers
to get their questions answered quickly and accurately – and furthermore, for them to
be able to get rapid answers to questions they didn’t even know were there when they
initially made the request.”
From Static to Self-Service: Redefining Institutional Reporting
In August 2010, the IR team unveiled a dynamic and interactive reporting portal that
gave faculty and administrators unprecedented power to explore the data on their own.
“Implementing a SAS Business Intelligence framework was the next logical step to help
us provide our users with on-demand access to dynamic reports,” said Tuesdi Helbig,
Director of Institutional Research. Users now can answer many of their own questions,
which greatly reduces the number of ad hoc data requests the IR office must respond
to each day.
“We have found that users have used the self-service report portal to address more
needs than we even imagined that they would use it for,” said Huff. “The deans and
VPs use this to really start looking at the supply and demand of their courses. Our
diversity committee uses it to complete their diversity plan. These are fantastic uses
of this particular facility. It became very valuable to them, and they have a wealth of
information right at their fingertips that they just didn’t have before.
“These were things that probably would have come through our office as data
requests, but now these individuals and committees are able to do this pretty much on
their own – and to dive deeper into the data than what we could have provided with
the former static reports.”
In addition, the system has advanced the team’s research agenda. As business
intelligence uncovered significant and persistent trends, administrators began asking IR
to determine why these trends were occurring. By automating some of the descriptive
questions – how many or which ones – IR has been able to focus more time on the
research component of its mission.
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