#IronQuest University Business Dashboard

To be honest, when I found out the Iron Quest theme for February was Business Dashboards I was a little underwhelmed (mainly because I wanted the theme to be food, which came in second place!).  You see, I don’t work in a “business”.  I work in academia (which is a business, but not what most people think of when they think business).  I also wasn’t sure what exactly makes a dashboard a “Business Dashboard”?  Is it the layout or design?  Is it the inclusion of KPI’s?  Is it the focus on a specific business question?  How could I build a business dashboard when I wasn’t even sure what one was?

Then I looked at the examples on Everyday Dashboards and realized that I make business dashboards every day in my job—I just did not think of them that way.  So, in keeping with the well-known advice to “write what you know”, I decided to make a university business dashboard for the February Iron Quest challenge.

Luckily, higher education data are publicly available on the National Center for Education Statistics (IPEDS) website.  For the purpose of this viz I chose to focus on 4-year institutions of higher education located in North Carolina.

Three things all universities are concerned with are enrollment, retention, and graduation, so I knew those would be the KPI’s that I focused on in the dashboard.  I wanted to show both current and trend data for these three components, and I also wanted a way to compare institutions.  This is what I came up with:

university dashboard

Across the top we see the most recent retention rate, graduation rate, and fall enrollment for the chosen institution.  Directly below those boxes we see the ten year trend data.  At the bottom, the main part of the viz is a scatterplot comparing retention and graduation rates for all 4-year North Carolina institutions, highlighting the chosen institution.  I also incorporated marginal histograms with this part of the viz to more clearly show the distribution, and added average lines as a reference.

One thing I like to contemplate when looking at a dashboard is what questions it raises (not only what questions it answers).  When I was exploring this dashboard I found myself thinking…what’s going on with the institutions in the top left corner that have above average retention but below average graduation rates?  Or the bottom right where they have below average retention and above average graduation rates?  What would it take to push the institutions near the average lines just a little bit higher?  These may not necessarily be questions that a dashboard can answer, but they are opportunities for a dashboard to initiate a conversation.

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