Des Moines Area Community College uses analytics to help students succeed

It wasn't by accident that Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) discovered that the students least likely to succeed register for class either the week before school starts or right after it begins. With SAS® Analytics, DMACC was able to rapidly sift through numerous variables to unearth this finding. The result: The school no longer enrolls students after the semester has started.

The discovery is just one part of a broader effort to use analytics to help the school meet its goals of improving retention and graduation rates, says Joe DeHart, Executive Director of Institutional Effectiveness. With SAS data management and reporting capabilities, administrators and educators throughout the school can use data to identify at-risk students, help students select the right coursework, and even manage the profitability of the school's cafeteria service.

DMACC has been using SAS for years. In the beginning, the college needed to consolidate its data and provide reporting. That's been accomplished. "Staff throughout the college can access data. They don't have to go through my department, so it extends our reach,'' DeHart says. Reports that used to take weeks and months are now completed in minutes or seconds. This has freed DeHart's team to explore data in more detail, which was needed because as the users became more data-savvy, their questions became more detailed. Thus, Dehart's team began utilizing SAS predictive analytics to delve deeper to answer those sophisticated questions.

What sets SAS apart from its competitors is that it's a one-stop shop that can turn any type of data into something that's finished, meaningful, insightful and intelligible – something that people can make proactive decisions with.

Joe DeHart
Executive Director of Institutional Effectiveness, Assistant to the President

Spreading the analytics message

If not for the spreading analytic culture at DMACC, DeHart says the discovery of a connection between late entrants and poor performance would have remained undetected. For years, conventional wisdom suggested that college entrance exams, both those taken in high school and those specifically designed for community college students, provided the guidance necessary to track students into regular, or developmental, coursework. But as national research began to question that wisdom, particularly as it relates to tracking students into developmental coursework that does not count toward a college degree, DeHart wanted to study his institution's own data.

He quickly discovered that the entrance tests had very little correlation to DMACC student performance. Administrators already knew that tracking students into developmental courses often caused them to drop out, but they were hesitant to reduce the role of entrance exam scores in guiding students. The late entrant discovery was the school's aha! moment. "Development classes are the kiss of death. Students are paying full tuition but not getting any college credit. They often give up,'' DeHart says. Today, DMACC offers late arriving students a college readiness class and counseling to prepare for full admission the next semester. It is also uses inexpensive online "refresher" classes for students with low English or math placement test scores, instead of requiring semester-long, no-credit developmental classes.

DMACC's use of data grows more sophisticated over time

Dehart started using SAS a decade ago, well before he started using SAS predictive analytics.  His usage has evolved over time. Initially, DMACC relied on the SCT Banner system for its reporting, which lacked the point-and-click ease of SAS and made it nearly impossible for anyone but power users to glean useful information from it. "What they got was paper, and it might have been a report that they only wanted a piece of, and so they'd have to dig through a 50-page report to find what they need and then enter it into a spreadsheet," DeHart explains. "It was very labor-intensive."

With SAS, exploring data is much simpler.

"SAS has become the linchpin to all that marries what we keep internally with what we're looking at externally – whether that's benchmark data, unemployment insurance data or national student clearinghouse data," he says. "At some point, it all flows through SAS to make sense of it.

"And the nice thing is that I don't have to worry about the data being accurate," DeHart says. "With SAS, I know all the fields are correct and that the users can slice and dice the data and it's always going to be correct. Before, we had a lot of interpretative data in which someone would run a manual process but not be able to repeat it the next semester because they forgot how they did it."

DeHart, who is also assistant to the DMACC president, is responsible for making sure staff members gain the insights they need to make the right choices about how the college serves its students. "A lot of times we have a ton of data that gets captured on students, their progress, when they come in, and when they go out," he explains. "SAS helps me provide an overall snapshot of the health of the institution, and insight into how programs, processes and systems within DMACC impact our students."

Dehart and his team have built a culture of using SAS for data-driven decision making. It extends to everything from figuring out how to keep cafeteria services in the black to surveying students after they graduate to see how they're doing and then compares that to the course load they took at DMACC to build a model of what makes for a successful student.

"The good thing,'' says DeHart, "is that as we continue to evolve, learn and question, SAS is there to help us."


Use reporting and analytics across the college to efficiently and effectively attract, retain and graduate students.


SAS for information management, reporting and predictive analytics


Users easily and securely access data and reports which frees DeHart's staff to mine data in more detail in order to proactively help students succeed.

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