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U Texas and U Oklahoma Recognized for SAS Work

A university in Texas that offers a dashboard system built to improve data access and transparency and an institution in Oklahoma that offers the largest data mining and business analytics certificate programs of their kind in the country have both been recognized for their use of SAS products at a national conference. SAS' Excellence in Education awards went to the University of Texas System, whose UT System dashboard allows the university community to view, explore, and share data related to performance across all of the system's institutions, and Oklahoma State University, which offers data mining, business analytics, and other certificate programs featuring SAS. The recognition was given during the company's annual SAS Global Forum, taking place this week in San Francisco.

According to a presentation by Alicia Betsinger and Annette Royal, both members of U Texas' Office of Strategic Initiatives, the System had previously published reports on institutional performance in the form of static PDFs and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. A new vice chancellor and an increasingly data-savvy board of regents pushed for investment in a data warehouse and business intelligence system in order to address growing demand for data from a number of institutional areas.

SAS was chosen after an evaluation of several business intelligence product lines, including offerings from IBM, Oracle, and Tableau Software. The project to deploy SAS began in August 2011, and the dashboard launched publicly in December of that same year. Expansion has continued since then with several goals:

  • To improve data access and transparency;
  • To improve data consistency;
  • To provide customized, user-built views of the data;
  • To report data on metrics that assess productivity and impact;
  • To support decision- and policy-making;
  • To track progress towards institutional- and system-level goals; and
  • To provide performance comparisons to relevant benchmarks and peer groups.

 

Metrics are clustered around student access and success, faculty productivity, research and technology transfer, finance and productivity, and health care.

According to Betsinger and Royal, the initiative has had a number of successes. In a paper on the dashboard project, they reported, "In just over a year OSI has created an interactive productivity dashboard driven off multiple higher education data points, streamlined office processes, met multiple goals and been highlighted in various arenas. In addition to meeting [U Texas] System goals, it has opened discussions and brought to light new targets and possibilities. The time and effort invested has paid off by creating Web-based reports that contain easy to access multiple years of historical data for public consumption. This transparency allows the ability to answer complex questions resulting in better outcomes."

Oklahoma State's SAS-focused programs have garnered its founder, Goutam Chakraborty, a distinguished professor award for using SAS in teaching and research and supporting successful student use of SAS. Launched eight years ago, the data mining certificate program is designed to "produce analysts who will be adept in extracting, exploring, and analyzing large quantities of data to discover meaningful patterns, develop prediction models, and develop rules for making better business decisions," according to the program's Web site. This set of courses is intended particularly for graduate students with a technical background in industrial engineering, computer science, statistics, information systems, and similar disciplines.

The business analytics certificate, started in 2011 for business administration students pursuing a master's degree, "is designed to produce analytically-savvy managers who will be adept at leading teams of...personnel in any organization to solve complex business problems by analyzing appropriate data."

Courses in both programs are offered on campus and online.

According to a video featuring Chakraborty, the certificates have proven to be "valued" in the marketplace. "When the students go out, they can hit the ground running," he said. "And that's the best part from a business point of view because they can have students that not only understand what is statistics or what is the theory behind statistics but more importantly how is it used in the context of the tools and software that is already out there. They can plug into the business system very quickly and start to produce value for the organization."

Chakraborty said he began using SAS from the beginning because he found "no other software available that would have provided the whole comprehensive suite of data mining that I wanted [my students] to access. There was no other company that would have given the type of certificate that I wanted to design."

So far 375 people have received the certificates. Chakraborty noted that all 75 graduates from the 2012 programs received job offers within a few months, many at a higher salary than they might otherwise expect. Graduates have been placed at Amazon, American Express, Apple, Dish Networks, FedEx, Home Depot, and a number of other national and international organizations.

Chakraborty encourages his students to begin the program during the first year of their master's studies in order to have sufficient time between years one and two to do research, write papers, and find work as interns. Recently, Chakraborty has begun adding text analytics to the coursework. A recent project had his students analyze tweets for a company interested in measuring the value of customer sentiment.

SAS operates an extensive global academic program to introduce the use of its technologies into schools. That program includes recognizing students who serve as annual SAS student ambassadors, all of whom received travel expenses and registration fees to the SAS conference and the opportunity to make a presentation. This year's recipients are:

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