Promoting Data-Driven Education at SUNY

Data

Promoting Data-Driven Education at SUNY

by Carly Capitula
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SUNY C2C Alliance

Background:

The State University of New York (SUNY) is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States. With 64 schools, a mix of research universities, liberal arts colleges, specialized and technical colleges, health science centers, land-grant colleges and thirty community colleges, SUNY’s reach is broad and its potential impact extensive. These institutions offer programs as varied as ceramics engineering, philosophy, fashion design, optometry, maritime studies, law, medical education and everything in between.

SUNY is embedded in virtually every community in New York State. Remarkably, 93 percent of New Yorkers live within fifteen miles of a SUNY campus and nearly 100 percent live within thirty miles. In many communities, SUNY is also the region’s largest employer.

“SUNY views education as a continuum that begins at birth and is carried on through school, college, career and even into retirement,” said SUNY Chancellor, Nancy L. Zimpher. “We’re in the process of continually growing initiatives and programs that leverage this potential to influence outcomes for students across New York State, for better outcomes and a better quality of life for us all.”

SUNY Systems Administration Building

Above: SUNY Systems Administration Building in Albany.

As part of its Seamless Education Pipeline vision, SUNY is providing technical assistance to a series of systemic and sustainable local education networks across the state. Collectively, these networks are known as the New York State (NYS) Cradle to Career Alliance (C2C). The goal of SUNY’s C2C Alliance is to bring together partners who have signed on to strengthen this educational continuum. Local partners include leaders in pre-K-12 schools, higher education, business and industry, community organizations, government leaders, parents and other stakeholders who are committed to helping children succeed from birth through college and into careers.

In partnership with StriveTogether, SUNY is helping communities all around the state adapt a framework for cradle-to-career collective impact and civic infrastructure. Partnerships have officially launched in Albany, Astoria/Long Island City, Clinton County, Geneva, Harlem, Rochester, South Bronx and Yonkers. Many more are starting to take shape, including, Binghamton, Farmingdale, Mohawk Valley and Staten Island.

Challenge:

Success with StriveTogether’s data-based and informed collective impact approach requires partners from every level of education across multiple sectors to take a hard look at their data and employ it for continuous program and process improvement. Being a state leader in this work, SUNY needed a solution that would allow them to share their post-secondary data with its C2C Alliance partners in an accessible way.

“Being such a large university system, SUNY acquires and has access to a massive amount of data. These data sets are especially valuable because it helps C2C initiatives identify and track important student and partner statistics,” said Vanessa Threatte, Executive Director of the NYS C2C Alliance at SUNY. “Being able to visualize and compare metrics across partnerships and across the state is of paramount importance to moving the dial for all of the students whom the Alliance seeks to serve.”

Tableau’s excellent data visualization and reporting capabilities allow SUNY to get the most out of their data. The plan was to generate easy-to-understand and informative reports on the aforementioned statistics. Such information would aid them in serving their current students better as well as improving their outreach efforts to underserved demographics. Specifically, the C2C Alliance wanted to create a series of dashboards that looked at data surrounding “College Readiness” and “College Completion.”

C2C Alliance Partner map

Above: A map of C2C Alliance partners. Their list of partners continues to grow rapidly.

In order to apply Tableau to this network challenge, the C2C Alliance first needed to demonstrate its potential to partner sites and administrators. They sought a variety of dashboards with full interactivity from one dashboard to another as well as within individual dashboards themselves. These dashboards would demonstrate the types of reports that could be requested of them. The dashboards would also serve as a “folder of resources” and provide snapshots of various cross sections of data. The C2C Alliance could then share relevant reports with their various partner sites. They would achieve this by pushing out Tableau workbooks via Tableau Reader and, ideally, Tableau Server.

The C2C Alliance didn’t simply want help creating some good-looking dashboards that would soon be outdated—they wanted their efforts to be sustainable. In order to achieve continued success in their data analysis efforts, SUNY staff required in-depth Tableau training. Such training would allow them to effectively create and make changes to dashboards on their own. With Tableau knowledge in hand, they would be able to utilize Tableau with confidence for future projects.

Receiving Tableau consulting and training was just the tip of the iceberg for SUNY and its C2C Alliance. After creating their dashboards and getting staff up to speed, they uncovered additional challenges with data collection and standardization across their system of campuses. They also needed assistance in identifying the most efficient method for storing and connecting to their data. In short, they needed a total data solution that stretched from data collection to data visualization.

Solution:

The C2C Alliance needed the help of a partner with considerable experience deploying Tableau throughout educational institutions. InterWorks fit that description perfectly. InterWorks worked closely with C2C Alliance staff as well as a member from SUNY’s Institutional Research (IR) team to create exactly what the C2C Alliance envisioned. Detailed Tableau training sessions from InterWorks gave this team the ability to showcase their dashboards skillfully when the time came. The SUNY Assistant VC and Assistant Provost for Community College Policy and Planning, along with the acting Director of Institutional Research, presented the C2C Alliance’s Tableau work as a proof of concept (POC) at the next SUNY C2C Alliance convening.

Using the data that was made available for this POC, InterWorks and the SUNY team created a Tableau workbook containing seven dashboards. The dashboards allow the user to navigate between various parameters (partnership site, student demographics, cohort years, etc.) and across different metrics. The team specifically included “read me” dashboards in the overall package so that users had some context for looking at the data presented. Above all, the dashboards were made to be interactive and visually appealing. InterWorks and the SUNY team used specific C2C Alliance color palettes and icons from a related project to keep the dashboards consistent with C2C Alliance branding.

SUNY Tableau Dashboard 1

Above: An example of a SUNY Tableau dashboard created for the initial presentation. 

Tableau Desktop and Excel were the only tools used in the project, with Tableau being the primary solution. Using extracts from SUNY’s current data warehouse, InterWorks connected Excel files to Tableau to create the seven dashboards in one workbook. This workbook included three “informative/overview” dashboards with context for the data and four data-driven dashboards. The Executive Director of the NYS C2C Alliance drove the concept and collaborated in making the workbook, the IR team provided the data and expertise, and a member of SUNY’s administration contributed to the strategy development.

Results:

The dashboards were a huge success and were enthusiastically received by partners at all levels. InterWorks helped SUNY’s C2C Alliance create a clear and attractive way to convey analyses of their key post-secondary metrics in Tableau. The most exciting aspect for them is the ability to share data easily between partner sites. They can also see data from all partner sites in one convenient place. Since the C2C Alliance is a fairly new initiative, these meaningful reports will only strengthen their relationships with partners. Moreover, these close relationships will strengthen SUNY’s impact across the entire education continuum.

These Tableau dashboards have generated a larger discussion at SUNY surrounding data collection and analysis. Seeing how data can potentially be displayed and shared via Tableau brought this topic to the top of the priority list for the IR team. They were able to see and understand Tableau’s capabilities much better, which in turn gave them insight into how to structure the underlying data in order to create effective visualizations. They expect a larger shift in workflow as a result of this upcoming project’s rollout—when a direct connection from the data source can be made to Tableau versus connecting to Excel files.

In the future, SUNY and its C2C Alliance will need to explore the data-sharing agreements and compliance necessary to optimize its data collection efforts across C2C Alliance partner databases when connecting data directly from schools and communities. This endeavor will require a level of compatibility and security across C2C Alliance sites, for which Tableau Server would be the lynch pin. Creating a consistent Tableau Server environment could allow them to share reports easily and, more importantly, securely across the C2C Alliance. InterWorks’ continued Tableau and data management guidance will be instrumental in SUNY’s evolution as a data-driven organization. With the ability to use and articulate their data in new and exciting ways, SUNY can expand upon their core mission of providing quality lifelong education.

About the New York State Cradle to Career Alliance at SUNY

     C2C Alliance Logo

The first network of its kind nationally, the New York State Cradle to Career Alliance at SUNY serves as a central support system for cradle-to-career networks statewide, and works with interested communities in the state seeking to develop new partnerships. In partnership with StriveTogether, SUNY is helping communities all around the state to adapt a framework for civic infrastructure to serve as the foundation of their cradle to career efforts. To learn more about the NYS C2C Alliance, visit www.suny.edu/cradletocareer and StriveTogether visit, www.strivetogether.org

About the State University of New York

SUNY Logo

The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive university system in the United States, educating nearly 463,000 students in more than 7,500 degree and certificate programs, and more than 1.8 million NYS citizens in professional development and personal enrichment programs, on 64 college and university campuses, and online through Open SUNY. There are nearly 3 million SUNY alumni worldwide. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunity, visit www.suny.edu

More About the Author

Carly Capitula

Global Enablement Practice Lead
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