When Kacy Lawrence joined the Graduate School team, she noticed that its website provided “a really limited amount of data.” She recognized a desire in the university community and beyond to see more information and to use it to make decisions, and she decided to address the need.

“Let me go through the data and sort it and make it more searchable and actionable,” she said, recalling her early thoughts. “Let’s make more data available on our site.”

During the past seven years, Lawrence has built a Data and Reports section on the Graduate School website with a wide array of data, survey results, and reports as well as information gleaned from internal and external partnerships. Lawrence, the Graduate School’s director of data and strategic initiatives, works closely with the Office of Analytics and Institutional Effectiveness (AIE) to provide students and others with access to data they may need to make decisions. “The partnership with AIE is essential to the success of the graduate school’s data dashboards,” she said.

She wanted to make using the data an easy task. “I want to make sure we are meeting people where they are at in terms of data literacy,” she said. “The biggest thing from a visual standpoint is to give people multiple options for ways to see the data: numbers, charts, tables, and such.”

Lawrence focuses on what she calls “insight data.” This includes information about careers, funding, programs and certificates and who enrolls in them, and interdisciplinary programs, much of it unique to the graduate school. She also draws from surveys the Graduate School conducts on a regular basis.

Lawrence said the Data and Reports section is aimed primarily at two groups of users: prospective students and the administrators, faculty and staff members of graduate departments.

“We want prospective students to be informed,” she said “We know students are looking for this information.”

During the months when students apply to universities, page views for the funding data pages rise. Many of the questions from prospective students during the Graduate School's virtual information sessions focus on data, and Lawrence often assists by providing links to information they request.

For example, they want to know about funding opportunities in departments. The data section page on assistantships provides detailed information on that topic, which is also a a key concern currently enrolled students. Lawrence provides the overview data in dashboards but also provides users with opportunities to “drill down” to specific programs or data points.

“What is important with the assistantships is they can look at the programs and see where students have assistantships,” she said. “In my program, where are students getting assistantships?” 

The Graduate School also has information from a survey of doctoral students who have graduated from Virginia Tech that provides information on the percentage of them who used personal resources in addition to or lieu of financial support from the university.

Potential and current students also want to know about career opportunities in their fields, Lawrence said. “They want to know where they go, the job sector, location, and expected salaries,” she said. Much of that information comes from exit surveys.

Lawrence said the Graduate School regularly asks graduate program directors and coordinators, and others who work closely with graduate students, what they need. She also provides presentations for graduate programs and staff. She said the most common comment she hears is, “I didn’t know this was there.”

One of the top requests is for accurate admissions and enrollment data. Graduate program administrators and staff also are interested in information from climate and exit surveys. All of the colleges and units have diversity and inclusion committees, and the survey information on the website helps them track trends and results. She has created several of the visualizations because people have asked for ways to use the data. She recently updated the admissions data after a conversation with a colleague, creating a funnel “to show how big the top, or the applications, is compared to a program’s capacity to accept students. The funnel shows the information more effectively than a bar chart.”

Lawrence said a key goal from a visual standpoint is to give people multiple options for ways to see the data. She is building a tabular data section for users to build their own tables. There are also interactive dashboards that allow users to customize the information they seek and pages devoted to specific data categories, such as enrollment, retention and completion, degrees awarded, task force reports, exit surveys, and assistantships.

“People can look at the data with various levels of data literacy,” she said. “I want to make sure we are meeting people where they are at. I don’t want to just provide data, I want to make sure the data are answering the most important questions related to graduate education at Virginia Tech.”

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