Data visualization and Hadoop make a difference in higher education

Wayne State University pairs SAS® Visual Analytics with Hadoop to make data-informed decisions

Administrators clamoring for student-level data at Wayne State University faced a number of hurdles. They could look at preformatted online reports created by IT that provided limited insight. Or they could hack their way through a business intelligence solution that required a steep learning curve. If that didn’t work, they could send a report request to the Institutional Research (IR) department.

In just five months, we were able to recreate and modernize 80 percent of the reports on our website that previously had taken five years to create.

Mark Byrd
Assistant Vice President of Institutional Research and Analysis

None of these options were satisfying to Mark Byrd, Assistant Vice President of Institutional Research and Analysis at the 27,000-student university located in Detroit. “We have a lot of information, but it was not in a user-friendly format,” Byrd says, adding that users couldn’t always find what they were looking for in a timely manner. “We want to provide more information with less of an effort.”

Wayne State chose SAS Visual Analytics running against its data brought together from multiple sources and stored in Hadoop. The result – administrators can drill into massive amounts of detailed information on enrollments, demographics, classes, students and more. Rather than hunt for information, they can simply use SAS to quickly create and share interactive reports instead of spending hours trying to pull together data from the previous system.

The ease and flexibility in using SAS Visual Analytics was obvious from the start: In just five months, IR team members transitioned 80 percent of the old, non-drillable reports that previously had taken five years to build into new interactive reports and dashboards. According to Adam Perkins, Senior Web Developer and Technical Analyst, an added benefit is having SAS Visual Analytics so tightly integrated with Hadoop. “SAS paired with Hadoop’s distributed storage capabilities eliminates processing bottlenecks and provides everything you need to get valuable insights from all your data,” says Perkins.

Empowering administrators with information

As news of a new way to look at data spread, administrators in different departments began approaching the IR team about collaborative projects. The Student Success Office is interested in cohort tracking and analysis. The College of Engineering wants to conduct a variety of analyses to help with its growth and distribution of resources.

Perkins explains that the IR team is also working with the budget department on a budget dashboard where users can access a variety of reports about general fund budget revenues and expenditures. They can then do a historical comparison of budget to budget. For example, they can see how much they're spending or how much they're budgeting for certain kinds of expenditures historically.

The budget office also has the ability to drill down into schools, colleges and divisions, and establish what an individual department might be spending and where they might be sending funds. Or they can drill by program or account pool group from which spending is occurring at the university.

Additionally, the IR team created dashboards for retention and graduation rates by different cohorts, admissions, peer comparisons, enrollment by overall university (annually or by term or college) and more. Byrd explains they can see all of this information on one screen as opposed to clicking through several screens. Administrators can easily analyze different variables, with an abundance of visual information at their fingertips.

Now instead of helping administrators gather fairly simple data (and formatting it), Byrd’s office is partnering with departments to empower them to become data-driven. User response has been extremely positive. “SAS Visual Analytics is just very intuitive,” says Byrd.

“They like being able to interact with and explore the data,” adds Song Yan, Director of IR, “and they love how fast and easy it is.” For example, if the English department wants to break out how many majors are also pursuing teaching credentials, it can now find out in mere minutes.

Increased flexibility and substantial time savings

“We have so much flexibility and compatibility now,” says Yan. “The ability to build hierarchies on the fly is huge. This allows users to drill down to the individual student record and view student performance over time. That is a more detailed level and granularity then we ever had before.”

“Previously, we would have to meet with IT, write a ticket, explain in detail what we need, and then sit down with them and precisely lay out the variables, how we want to do it, how it's supposed to look, etc.,” explains Byrd. “That alone is considerable time that we have to take, not only from our staff, but also from IT folks. We don't have to do any of that anymore. The time savings alone makes an enormous difference.”

The university now runs automated queries overnight. “As Wayne State has 6,000 courses that are taught every term, having the details about those courses and the enrolled students is a massive amount of data,” says Byrd. “Previously, running queries on this data took a significant amount of time. We used to have to determine creative methodologies to find ways to bring the data up as quickly as possible.”

Time savings isn’t the only major benefit. “With SAS Visual Analytics, reports are easy to design, manipulate, change and update,” says Yan. “So as we get new records in a table, they're automatically updated every night. Previously, this would have taken several people significant time and effort to put together and deliver.”

“Using SAS’ advanced in-memory processing combined with Hadoop’s distributed storage is fast,” says Byrd. “We are now able to work with data that's already available to the processors. That is a giant boon to our department.”



Provide administrators with self-service analytics and student-level detailed information to make data-driven decisions.


SAS® Visual Analytics on Hadoop


  • Administrators in multiple departments are empowered with interactive dashboards featuring student-level data. They can drill down into detailed information on enrollments, demographics, classes, students and more.
  • The budget department can quickly and easily access budget history and comparisons, expenditures and revenues.
  • The university is achieving tremendous time savings for IT and IR.

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.

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