Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education Boosts Academic Success Rates With WebFOCUS

State Regents Present Student Metrics for National Educational Initiative

The Oklahoma State System of Higher Education prescribes academic standards for 25 colleges and universities throughout the state. It analyzes a tremendous amount of student data to help these institutions develop relevant courses of study, grant degrees, manage scholarships, apply allocations, and set tuition and fees within the limits set by the Oklahoma legislature. The State Regents works with the National Governors Association to support an educational initiative called Complete College America (CCA) that was launched to increase the number of Americans with career certificates and college degrees, as well as to close attainment gaps for traditionally underrepresented populations.

To establish a baseline and measure progress toward important personal and civic educational goals, each state participating in the CCA program must gather data and present metrics about the activities of its students. Oklahoma State Regents uses Information Builders’ WebFOCUS business intelligence (BI) dashboards and reports to make this information available via a public-facing web portal called Oklahoma Education Information System.

“We receive and process several hundred thousand rows of data each semester on the academic performance, demographics, and activities of every student who is enrolled in a public or private college or university in Oklahoma,” says Marion Dilbeck, assistant vice chancellor at Oklahoma State Regents. “Thanks to its advanced analytic and data visualization capabilities, WebFOCUS enables us to compose a broad picture of what is happening in higher education throughout the state.”

Achieving an Edge in a Competitive Workforce

In today’s knowledge-based economy, approximately two-thirds of all jobs require a higher education credential or degree. For nearly all Americans, the path to the middle class runs through college. However, U.S. institutions of higher education are not producing enough college graduates to meet workforce needs. This is detrimental to individuals and states, since college-educated workers earn higher wages, have greater career mobility, and contribute substantially to economic growth.

Oklahoma is one of the states that has led the charge to reform K-12 education, and is now part of a consortium of states participating in the Complete to Compete initiative, which engages governors, higher education executive officers, and campus leaders to boost college completion rates.

Comparable, reliable metrics are essential for measuring progress within this inter-state initiative, especially reliable information on the progress and degree completion of all students in higher education. Metrics from WebFOCUS allow state leaders to gauge whether their policies are successful and inform future funding decisions.

From Raw Data to Meaningful Information

Over the years, Oklahoma State Regents has collected a wealth of data from public and private colleges in the State of Oklahoma. It previously analyzed the data using SQL procedures and Excel spreadsheets, but the output was restricted to rigid printouts and standard reports. To meet federal, state, and institutional demands for measuring progress, they needed a better way to share this insight with a broad base of constituents, from state legislators to college chancellors.

“We had a great deal of information, but without WebFOCUS only a few computer programmers could make sense of the data,” Dilbeck explains. “Everyone else was dependent on us for reports that were not much advanced over old-fashioned, green-bar paper reports. We lacked a front-end presentation layer that would convert these data into meaningful information for analysts, board members, and the general public.”

Dilbeck and his team assessed BI solutions from IBM, Oracle, and other technology vendors, but they felt that these companies were too focused on the commercial sector and lacked empathy for higher education and government agencies. The breakthrough came when they heard about a BI solution that Information Builders implemented for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, an agency that oversees all public post-secondary education for the state of Texas.

“Information Builders’ work for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board demonstrated a rapport with institutions of higher education at the state level,” Dilbeck says. “When we spoke with Information Builders, we were happy to find a great deal of mutual understanding. Their proof of concept demonstrated what is possible with their high caliber of BI tools.”

Presenting Comprehensive Student Metrics

After sharing the proof of concept with other board members, Dilbert obtained the go-ahead to proceed with a variety of WebFOCUS projects. Several developers attended Information Builders Customer Education classes to gain proficiency with WebFOCUS Developer Studio.

With help from Information Builders Professional Services, these employees used WebFOCUS to create a web-based portal that displays the state’s higher educational data as well as Complete College America initiative data through interactive dashboards.

“The WebFOCUS development environment is simple and intuitive for developers,” says Jarrod Cordova, application systems analyst for Oklahoma State Regents. “End users also find it to be straightforward. The learning curve for the dashboards is very quick once you understand the CCA data.”

Some of the most important CCA metrics include:

  • Context metrics, which show the broad picture of enrollment and degrees awarded in the state
  • Progress metrics, which reveal how students work through the system and their success in their initial year of enrolment. This helps educators understand if students need remediation to help them improve
  • Completion metrics, which tabulate the degrees that are earned. The student body is divided by demographics such as gender, ethnicity, age, grant recipients, and remediation. Each sub population is individually tracked for graduation rates and other metrics

Steering Educational Policy, Informing Funding Efforts

Once the CCA metrics were in place, the team used WebFOCUS to rewrite a number of important statutory reports. With help from Information Builders Professional Services, the team updated these legacy reports and incorporated them into the dashboard environment. Many of these reports are parameterized so people can sort the information as they choose. The project currently encompasses 20 dashboards plus 15 static reports and is growing rapidly.

This information is freely available to the general pubic and to decision-makers who the agency supports, including chancellors, vice chancellors, and other key personnel within the educational community. Members of the state legislature also depend on the information to assess progress towards state goals, create proposals and appropriations, steer educational policy, and help with a variety of higher-education funding efforts in the state.

This indicator compares output to input of the cost of producing certificates and degrees by institution type.

Other users of these reports include two-year colleges that provide the agency with data in return for accurate statistics for the National Center for Education and other national data exchanges. For example, these colleges might want to understand the success rates in continuing education to see how students who obtain two-year degrees fit into the larger picture of education throughout the state.

“We can conduct research that these institutions are not able to do because we have state-level information,” Dilbeck explains. “We correlate the information that we get from various institutions to provide a state-level picture that they cannot get on their own.”

State Regents is also using WebFOCUS InfoAssist to help users to create their own reports. “InfoAssist is a big step forward in convenience and flexibility,” Cordova says. “It makes it much easier for our analysts to create ad hoc or permanent reports.”

According to Dilbeck, the new WebFOCUS system is having a positive impact on how the State Regents performs its job of upholding higher education standards. “Metrics displayed through our WebFOCUS dashboards help with everything from how the state allocates federal funds to how institutions award degrees,” he explains. “The WebFOCUS dashboards graphically illustrate and explain the Complete College metrics set that has become a central part of our business and impacts everything that happens within the realm of higher education in Oklahoma.”

Future plans include creating a WebFOCUS dashboard to monitor course equivalency data. Dilbeck also wants to use WebFOCUS to identify students who can benefit from tutoring and mentoring, keeping enrollment rates high and dropout rates low. Other plans include incorporating Google Maps into the system to help students locate educational institutions that match their desired course of study and degree requirements, and using WebFOCUS ReportCaster to push reports out to academic decision-makers. Other departments in the agency hope to use WebFOCUS to assist with grant proposals for federal funding.

“WebFOCUS helps us be more productive using our limited resources,” Dilbeck concludes. “We want to make it the default BI tool for our organization. We have been very happy with the results that we have seen so far.”