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Dalton State College Automates Fact Book with Online Dashboard

Dalton State College in Georgia has replaced its manual Fact Book development process with an automated dashboard that draws data directly from the student information system and delivers information on demand through an online interface.

Challenge

Dalton State is located in the city of Dalton in northwest Georgia. Serving about 5,000 students and employing 215 faculty, the small college has only a couple of people working in the Office of Institutional Research and Planning (IRP). One of the office's primary responsibilities is to produce the college's Fact Book, which details statistics and demographics about the college's students and faculty.

In the past, the IRP office produced the book manually using Microsoft Word and Excel. The process was time consuming and laborious, especially since the small staff was simultaneously responsible for handling other information requests and could not dedicate all of its time to producing the Fact Book. Though the office would receive final enrollment numbers by October, it would typically take until January or February to publish the official Fact Book for distribution in paper copy and PDF.

Solution

As the number of information requests continued to grow, Henry Codjoe, director of IRP at Dalton, decided to look for a more efficient method of developing the Fact Book. "I know of some schools with one person whose only job is to produce the Fact Book. We don't have that luxury here," said Codjoe. "We wanted something that would be faster and more efficient."

Codjoe looked at the various IRP dashboard products available for the higher education market. There were many to choose from, but most were far beyond the college's limited budget. Knowing there was no way the college could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, Codjoe settled on iDashboards, an online tool for monitoring higher education key performance indicators (KPIs) such as enrollment, accreditation, effectiveness, institutional research, financials and departmental metrics. After attending an iDashboards workshop and discussing the college's needs with the company, Codjoe decided it was the most affordable and suitable option for the college.

"We chose iDashboards because it was relatively inexpensive and they have good tech support," said Codjoe. "I saw the kind of data it can collect and the graphics we could use, and I thought this would be good for the data that we collect here and produce in our Fact Book."

Implementation

The college opted for the iDashboard In Cloud software-as-a-service, which is integrated with Dalton State's Banner student information system (SIS). As part of the implementation, the company sent a representative to Dalton State to work with Codjoe and his team for a week, teaching them how to use the software and working with them to develop their customized dashboards.

The dashboard pulls in data from two separate sources. It gets most of the information about student enrollment and demographics from the Banner SIS, but the IRP office needs to share other information that isn't stored in Banner. Additional information about faculty, finances and so on is stored in an extensive array of Excel spreadsheets that were originally developed for the Fact Book, and those spreadsheets have now been repurposed to funnel information into the dashboards. As new information becomes available, the IRP staff update the spreadsheets and that information is automatically available through the iDashboards interface.

The iDashboards implementation at Dalton State is still a work in progress. Codjoe wants to build more custom dashboards, including specialized ones for each of the department heads. "They will be able to look up information like enrollment numbers, admissions or student withdrawals whenever they want, so they can use that information for decision-making," said Codjoe. He also hopes to implement the iDashboards mobile app so faculty and administration can easily look up information from anywhere.

How It's Used

Now faculty and staff at Dalton State can access key performance indicators any time they want through the online interface. They just visit the Web site, select the information they want to see and the dashboard displays it in graphical format. And because the dashboard updates automatically from the Banner SIS and IRP spreadsheets, decision-makers no longer have to wait months for the Fact Book to be compiled and published.

The college's admissions office is using the data for internal analysis. For example, if the Dalton State wants to admit 500 students in the fall, administrators can look at historical data to determine how many applications they need to reach that enrollment number. "iDashboards can you help you do that," said Codjoe. "So to get that many students you know you need 1,200 applications, but if you're at 800 applications right now then you know you need to put in more effort."

Administrators at the college also use the dashboard to monitor enrollment numbers so they can intervene if those numbers start to decline. Dalton State's president keeps tabs on enrollment numbers on a weekly basis. If he sees a significant drop in enrollment in a specific program, staff can follow up with students and provide guidance as needed.

Results

Codjoe is happy with the results of the implementation. "We still have a lot of information to add in there, but it's a good process for us right now," he said. "We were spending months and months working on the Fact Book. Now all we do is prepare a very small Quick Facts, which takes about a week to do."

The dashboard has also cut down on the number of information requests coming into the IRP office. "People used to call us for information such as enrollment numbers, but now they just go to iDashboards and look it up without calling the office, so that saves us time, too," said Codjoe.

"It's about efficiency and time management," added Codjoe. "Also, the information is alive. It can be updated regularly without much sweat. It's visual, and people like visual stuff. The bottom line is I want to save time and be more efficient and I think the dashboard does that."

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About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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