Valencia College uses data-driven approach to improve outcomes in higher education

SAS® Visual Analytics empowers college to help students succeed

Making sure the right number of courses are offered at fast-growing Valencia College is just one of the many jobs Daryl Davis’ team is responsible for. To make it easier for administrators to make these decisions, Davis has automated the process with SAS Visual Analytics. Administrators can see what they want when they need it, and the Institutional Research team Davis leads can devote time to more detailed analysis.

With SAS Visual Analytics, my mind is always turning. What can we study? What data can we give our administrators? It has led to a culture shift.

Daryl Davis
Director of Institutional Research

With more than 59,000 students spread over five campuses, enrollment periods are hectic for administrators who must rapidly determine whether to open more sections of certain classes, or close others. By using SAS Visual Analytics, administrators can view the information themselves anytime, anywhere, giving what one campus president described as “the ability to see what is going on from my mobile device while I’m sitting in the drive-thru at McDonald’s.”

Data-driven decision making has been transformed with users exploring their data through interactive analytic visualizations anywhere the need arises. “We don't have to create 100 different versions of the same report. Users can get access to any data and answer any questions they might have by just drilling in, checking or unchecking a box, or using a drop-down menu,” says Alex Larzabal, who directs enterprise application services for the college. The result: Requests for ad hoc reports have dropped more than 60 percent.

Managing enrollment and student progression

The earliest successes of SAS Visual Analytics were evident in the weeks leading up to a new semester. As students enroll, deans and campus presidents are constantly analyzing their information: Is demand for introductory English classes outstripping supply at the Osceola campus? Is there weak demand spread across multiple sections of math at another campus? The school wants to make sure students can get the classes they need, but it doesn’t want several classes with low enrollment. The data is refreshed every day so campus deans can see where the college is at as far as availability and sections being filled, and what percent of each class is filled to better understand whether to open new sections on campuses where demand is high or close sections where demand is low. “This helps with space and resource utilization,” Davis explains.

Davis’ team has automated multiple reports that used to be done manually, including one that shows how long it takes new students to complete 15 college-level credits. “Given that many of our students need to take developmental courses, our administration believes that getting in 15 college-credit courses within two years is a good measure to see how successful students will be toward graduation,” he explains. Now, using SAS Visual Analytics, this report – as well as other factors – are built into the dashboard. Measures include graduation rates by race, ethnicity, first-generation college students and students who participate in a special college transition program.

As a member of the Achieving the Dream consortium of colleges, this data-driven approach to improving outcomes is expected. Administrators can answer complex questions: Why are students successful in certain demographics? Are we meeting certain college key thresholds that we have set? Are students who have experienced certain initiatives within the college more successful? “Our leadership needs data to make informed decisions on whether current initiatives to help first-generation or low-income students are working,” Davis explains.

What happens when administrators have instant access to data

Now administrators can quickly make adjustments – and even find mistakes, such as the campus president who was looking at a report and found too many sections of a class were opened too soon. She was easily able to annotate that on her tablet and email it to her dean and ask, “Why are we offering this?” Had the mistake not been found, the college would have needed to collapse several sections, possibly causing some students to have a difficult time working that class into their schedules.

These newfound abilities have led to a culture shift. Instead of using static PowerPoint slides for meetings, university administrators now easily access and share up-to-date reports in SAS Visual Analytics on their laptops, mobile phones or tablets. If a question arises, attendees can interact with the data and reports. They can slice and dice the information however they want, and use filters and drill-through capabilities to better understand what is going on. As Davis explains, “I think a part of the culture shift is not only our discussions of data, but it also shifts the discussions on how data is visualized and how it’s presented to the audience.”

And there is more to come

The Institutional Research team is exploring more ways to use SAS Visual Analytics. Valencia College is partnering with nearby University of Central Florida (UCF) to understand student success rates and persistence and other measures for students who graduated from Valencia College’s two-year program and eventually transferred to UCF.

The college is also working on visualization for Human Resources so it can better understand budgeting and staffing. “They’re interested in having conversations like, ‘Do we need to create more positions? If we do, how many more positions can we afford? Do they need to be full time versus part time? What campus or what department needs that the most?’” Larzabal elaborates.

Additionally, Valencia College will look at persistence and retention rates to see how they affect certain students. Do students stay in college if they take a new student experience class? What about orientation? “There are a lot of conversations within higher education around creating pathways to help students stay in school and graduate,” says Davis, “and SAS Visual Analytics will help with a lot of our pathways discussions.”

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Empower administrators with information to improve student outcomes.


SAS® Visual Analytics


  • Requests for ad hoc reports dropped by more than 60 percent.
  • Administrators can interact with data in real time and drill down into visual reports to conduct deeper analysis.
  • It’s easy to adjust the availability for class and resource efficiency so students have the classes and resources they need.

The results illustrated in this article are specific to the particular situations, business models, data input, and computing environments described herein. Each SAS customer’s experience is unique based on business and technical variables and all statements must be considered non-typical. Actual savings, results, and performance characteristics will vary depending on individual customer configurations and conditions. SAS does not guarantee or represent that every customer will achieve similar results. The only warranties for SAS products and services are those that are set forth in the express warranty statements in the written agreement for such products and services. Nothing herein should be construed as constituting an additional warranty. Customers have shared their successes with SAS as part of an agreed-upon contractual exchange or project success summarization following a successful implementation of SAS software. Brand and product names are trademarks of their respective companies.