University uses analytics to ensure student success

Western Kentucky University uses data visualization and advanced analytics to make informed decisions

Every university student has a different combination of class schedules, financial aid, fields of study and a host of other factors. Multiply this by thousands of students in an institute for higher education, and you develop a complex mix of data, often hosted in dozens of internal systems.

At Western Kentucky University (WKU), the role of managing this massive amount of data belongs to Tuesdi Helbig, Director of Institutional Research (IR). Her team establishes the foundation for data management, analytics and reporting at WKU, helping administrators make informed decisions.

SAS makes it faster and easier to dig into tons of data and get meaningful results.

Tuesdi Helbig
Director of Institutional Research

The IR office collects and analyzes data, then provides information to staff members about the school’s students, faculty, programs and courses. And it turns to SAS® to give decision makers better access to data and, more importantly, deep insight into how the university is doing.

Making tough decisions easier through data visualization

The role of the IR office is to support decisions, from broad, strategic initiatives to more tactical issues. There is no typical example. IR has to help answer any questions that arise.

The WKU executive team needs high-level, high-impact reports that tell a full story about student enrollment, revenue and strategic planning data. Deans and department heads want detailed reports on the students within their colleges and departments. And advisers are interested in which students are at risk of failing or dropping out, using risk models of student data to anticipate when someone needs additional help.

“The Institutional Research office has used SAS for 20 years to build a strong data foundation, provide analyses and meet the needs of our users,” Helbig says.

“People used to ask simple questions, such as how many students of a certain type are enrolled,” Helbig says. “But now they can get the simple questions answered, so they’re asking us more sophisticated questions like, ‘Are we driving majors off by requiring certain courses early in their major?’ or ‘Are there certain courses in our major that correlate with students changing their major or leaving the university?’

“Using SAS Visual Analytics reveals patterns that you wouldn’t see if you were using business intelligence tools,” Helbig says. “SAS makes it faster and easier to dig into tons of data and get meaningful results. Without SAS Visual Analytics, you are really making decisions blindly. This solution helps you see what’s in your data and what’s happening within your institution. And at any time, users can delve deeper into the visualizations – and the data behind them – to know more.”

Using analytics to drive student success

The IR office uses advanced analytics on student data to develop a better understanding of the factors that led a student to be successful.

“We initially deployed SAS® Enterprise Miner to develop attrition risk models, which are used by colleges, departments and advisers to guide their efforts to improve student success,” Helbig says. “Now given that success, we are also using it to assess our admissions standards. Based on our results from that analysis, our admissions criteria have been changed to place more emphasis on high school GPA instead of ACT scores. And that’s not all. Recently, we began using SAS Enterprise Miner to project student enrollment for the fall semester, as well as developing the university’s budget for the following year.

“As you can see, we have used SAS in many areas, and our university’s executives and college deans are very happy with our quality of analysis and reporting,” Helbig adds. They’re especially satisfied with having access to the most current information so they can gain valuable insights into what might happen and why. Ultimately, this capability allows them to make more informed, timely decisions.

“Not only do WKU’S executives and deans get answers to their questions, but they are also finding answers to questions they didn’t even know existed,” Helbig says. “They’re asking more complex questions, which gives us the ability to provide better services to our students. Ultimately, that’s what we’re here for: to help ensure the success of each and every student.”



WKU needed to collect, analyze and report on information about students, faculty, programs and courses.



  • Timely access to data and information, delivering insights into the institution's affairs.
  • Instantaneous data and reports instead of waiting days or weeks for information.
  • Access to current data for planning purposes.
  • Productivity gains in analysis and generating reports.
  • Ability to identify enrollment trends and modify course offerings.
  • Monitor student performance to ensure student success.
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