THECB Accountability Comparisons

As I mentioned in a previous post, I spend a fair amount of time working with data in the Accountability System produced by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). One of the things I always found missing in this tool is a way to compare one institution to another or to a set of other institutions. For example, at Texas State we often compare ourselves to the other emerging research universities (ERUs) in the state. Although the accountability system allows us to pull the data on the institutions, we then have to reformat the data and make comparisons manually. So, in an attempt to simplify this process I put together the following Tableau visualization of the data. It doesn’t include all of the measures from the accountability system (being able to download all the data is another of its limitations), but I did include many of the variables that are commonly used with a focus on undergraduates.
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Highlighting change for a subset of measures

This post was inspired by a question on the Tableau forums. Basically the goal was to display a combination of measures in a single table. Some measures were percentages and others whole numbers. Added to this was a desire to highlight change (up or down) for percentages but not for the whole number values. The highlight table seemed to be the best solution, but by default it applies the highlight to all values. So, it took some tweaking to get to trick Tableau into not highlighting the changes in whole numbers.
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Institutional Research Tools in Tableau

After a year of playing around and developing things in Tableau, we have finally been approved to release the new tools we’ve developed at work. Of course, by “we” I really mean “me”. To be fair, other people in the office have been responsible for gathering most of the data up to this point, and a few offered comments and suggestions on layout and colors. Still, it feels like I’ve been the lead on getting these tools developed in Tableau up to this point.

One thing I should mention is that Tableau is really designed as a way to visualize data (hence the term data visualization). In these cases we are actually using it as a tool to develop an interface to university data. The goal with many of these tools, especially the University Enrollment Explorer, is to allow people to find the information they are after, and at the same time provide ways of drilling down to answer additional questions once they have that information at hand. So far Tableau has proven to be very useful for doing this and considerably more user friendly than the pivot tables in MS Excel that we were using. One nice feature is that with Tableau you can export the data behind the tables, graphs, charts, etc. to create a pivot table if someone wants to do more with the data than the visualization allows. Anyway, here’s a link to the “Self-Service Tools” on our website.

IR Self-Service Tools

I should also mention that we’ve moved our “Facts and Highlights” into Tableau as well. It doesn’t allow for the interactivity provided by the other tools, but it’s more convenient than creating all the graphs and charts in Excel or Powerpoint like we were doing. That section of our website can be found here:

Texas State University Facts and Highlights

UPDATE 3/10/2016 – Coming soon there will be a link from the “Facts and Highlights” pages which will take you to the appropriate self-service tool in case you want to drill down and explore the data further. Well, most of them will have the link since we don’t have tools that deal with everything.

Higher Ed Data Stories

Rather than posting another tip and trick about using Tableau, I decided that this week I would take a moment to acknowledge one of the sites that I try to visit on at least a semi-regular basis. The site in question is:

Higher Ed Data Stories

As the name suggests, this blog tells stories about Higher Education using data. Although I don’t always agree with some of the conclusions when the leap is made from the data to underlying causes or meanings, I do find the site useful and informative. He is also a big user of Tableau (which is actually how I found the site). I encourage you to go check it out.