Course completion rates triple after Goodwill Education Initiatives of Indiana identifies key insight



Goodwill Education Initiatives of Indiana (Goodwill Education) runs a number of adult learning centers, The Excel Centers, throughout central Indiana. The education non-profit needed to speed data insight and overcome pockets of data aversion. After choosing Tableau, Goodwill Education has enjoyed a number of benefits including:

  • Discovered key insight that led to 3x as many students completing the program
  • Cut reporting time by several weeks

Goodwill Education Initiatives of Indiana (Goodwill Education) is a non-profit adult education organization devoted to helping adult learners. Goodwill Education wanted to instill a more data-driven culture in a field that can be “data-rich but analysis light.” The non-profit’s existing business intelligence tools made that an uphill battle—even standard reporting took a week per location to complete.

After choosing Tableau, Goodwill Education has been able to speed compliance reporting, attract educators to data analytics, and identify key offerings that have dramatically improved student graduation rates.

Goodwill Education’s former students have earned an estimated additional $9.3 million more in wages and benefits as a result of working with the non-profit. The organization credits Tableau with helping them to fulfill their mission more effectively and efficiently than ever before.

"Data-rich but analysis light"

Out of the ten schools served by Goodwill Education, nine are Excel Centers; each Excel Center enrolls more than 300 adult learners. In the fall of 2014, Goodwill Education will open its first out-of-state Excel Center in Austin, Texas.

Goodwill Education wanted to instill a more data-driven culture in a field that can be “data-rich but analysis light.” The organization’s existing business intelligence tools made that an uphill battle—even standard reporting took a week per location to complete.

Dan Scott, Director of Data Services, Goodwill Education Initiatives of Indiana, was determined to make data analysis easy, fun, and relevant—all to help the organization better serve its adult student population.

After choosing Tableau, Scott says that Goodwill Education has been able to triple its course completion rates, cut reporting times by several weeks over its multiple locations, and has even previously data-averse educators performing data analysis on the fly.

The non-profit has now expanded its data analysis services to other schools, helping 15 area public schools benefit from truly data-driven decision making.

Helping a challenged population to succeed

A particular challenge with the adult learning population is that they are shouldering responsibilities and facing difficulties that can complicate their educational efforts.

“Sometimes their car breaks down or their work schedule changes, or maybe a family member gets sick,” says Dan Scott, Director of Data Services, Goodwill Education Initiatives of Indiana. “They might be in the middle of term one and they say, ‘There's too much personal stuff going on, I'll be back in term two.’"

Unfortunately, the organization knows that the overwhelming majority—90 percent—of students that become inactive will never return and finish a program.

“We can't let them get to that point,” says Scott. “If we allow them to quit again on their education, the likelihood is that they are not going to be successful.”

An industry slow to embrace data

Scott and Goodwill Education are dedicated to the idea that education can and should be a data-driven pursuit. But they recognize that there is a long way to go to meet that goal.

“Often, schools only collect data because they’re required to report on it. This industry is data rich, but analysis light,” says Scott.

Many teachers and administrators could even be described as data-averse, Scott says.
“When you're in school to become an educator, you are taught how to teach. You're not taught how to analyze data to improve,” he says. “So people can have this adverse reaction to the idea of doing data analysis—because it’s unfamiliar.”

But Scott believes strongly that taking the time stop and look at the data can help educators to ensure that they are spending their time most effectively.

“They would stay late for a week”

Initially, Goodwill Education did this by implementing a term review every eight weeks. “We would analyze everything that happened during the school term—how many credits were earned, retention, things of that nature,” Scott explains.

Gathering and looking at the data took approximately a week per school. “They would literally sit in an office and stay late every day for a week, compiling information after class,” Scott recalls.

Using the organization’s existing industry-specific tools, Scott was able to cut that process down to “about two weeks across five sites.” But that was still too long. And he couldn’t produce the impactful analysis he envisioned.

Scott began a search for a new tool and quickly realized that industry-specific data solutions were too limited to meet his needs.

“Whether you're using Harmony, PowerSchool, Skyward—any of the major student information systems today—the number-one focus is for state and federal reporting,” says Scott.

Flexible analysis was impossible, and getting information out of the systems was “a nightmare,” according to Scott.

“We wanted a tool that could quickly allow us to analyze data across multiple areas,” he says. “And we wanted to be able to produce a set report, but one that was interactive, so our employees could filter or drill down to answer their own questions.”

“We kept coming back to Tableau”

Scott and his team looked at a number of business intelligence solutions, including Tableau.

“We were impressed right away,” says Scott. “But Tableau was not the least expensive option. We hoped we could find something else—but we kept coming back to Tableau.”

Today, Goodwill Education has 4 employees authoring data dashboards using Tableau Desktop and approximately 200 employees viewing and interacting with the published dashboards on Tableau Server.

Most of the data they view in Tableau comes from either the PowerSchool or Harmony student information systems. PowerSchool data is structured and Harmony data is unstructured; Goodwill Education has also implemented a SQL data warehouse that they connect to using Tableau.

Each of the organization’s 5,000 student records comprised approximately 10,000 rows of data.

“You have basic student data such as gender or date of birth and then you have records for every single course—typically 30 or 40 courses. It adds up in a hurry,” says Scott.

The Special Education department within Goodwill Education takes advantage of the subscription option in Tableau Server to help manage its federally-mandated compliance reporting.

Scott estimates that roughly 10-20 percent of employees using Tableau interact with dashboards from a mobile device.

“Our superintendent almost always uses Tableau on his tablet because he wants quick answers to things while he's in meetings. So it's just easy for him to pull out his iPad and look it up real quick,” says Scott.

Goodwill Education’s adoption of Tableau has expanded outside of its own schools.
“Once we had Tableau underway here, our very next thought was ‘how can we help other schools and give them access to something similar?’” recalls Scott.

Today, Goodwill Education is using Tableau to help 15 Indiana schools identify areas for improvement and continues to recruit additional partner schools.

Now you can put a dashboard in front of someone that says: here are the areas you need to focus on and here are the students you need to be worried about. And the school is going to do a lot better overall—not because anyone's working harder, but because people know where they can get the biggest return on their time and energy.

Putting Data—and graduates—to work

The impacts of Goodwill Education’s programs are wide reaching. To date, its former students have earned an estimated additional $9.3 million more in wages and benefits as a result of working with Goodwill Education.

Goodwill Education of Indiana was able to identify a factor that had the greatest influence on whether students completed their programs at the schools: Certificate programs.

And the non-profit credits Tableau with helping it fulfill its mission more effectively than ever before. Tableau has helped Goodwill Education analyze what student populations they are serving most successfully, which accomplishments have the biggest returns, and they can fulfill state and federal accountability demands more easily.

More importantly, Scott can point to three major changes that are having a deep impact on his organization and the students they serve:

  • Increasing student completion rates by identifying key offering. Goodwill Education of Indiana was able to identify a factor that had the greatest influence on whether students completed their programs at the schools: Certificate programs.

    “Using Tableau, we saw that our success rate was approximately three times higher with the students that took part in the certification class,” says Scott. “That gave us a sort of ‘magic bullet’ as far as a way to keep students engaged and help them start thinking towards their future.”

    The improved engagement and completion rates make sense, Scott notes. Having a high school diploma and an industry certification means that a student goes from being unemployed and relying on Public Assistance to making a living wage and a contributing taxpayer. But the significant impact the certification program had on student completion rates had never been identified before Tableau.

    “Once we started analyzing success rates and realized the impact, we quickly made it a goal to have students either earn an industry certification or transition to college,” says Scott.

    And the non-profit didn’t stop there.

    “We’ve created a job placement service, TalentSource, that works with employers in the area—‘If we get you people with particular certifications, will you employ them?’ So our students are getting excited. ‘I have a real future. I can do this as a career path.’”

  • Speeding data insight. Scott’s team is able to see and understand the data across its multiple sites far faster than was ever possible before. “Something that would have taken ten weeks to gather before is now available in about ten clicks,” he says.

    That means that Goodwill Education employees can use that time on more strategic efforts.

    “The weeks they were spending compiling the data is now time that they're spending fixing issues. So you go from data collection to data usage,” he says.

  • Making data more approachable. Today, Goodwill Education’s employees are able—and more importantly, willing—to turn to data to answer questions. “When you put an attractive graph or trend line in front of people, they aren’t intimidated. The reaction is more, ‘Oh, that’s actually interesting.’”

    Scott’s team was careful to introduce initial dashboards that were straightforward and easy to understand. These early dashboards allowed employees to quickly identify areas where they were doing well and areas that could be improved.

    These first dashboards also encouraged “baby steps” into data analysis.

    “As people become more comfortable with Tableau, they start drilling in and going further—maybe overlaying new information or going deeper into individual student data. One day they wake up and realize, ‘Oh, when I told you I was never going to do data analysis? I'm actually doing it on my own now.’”

    Today, Goodwill Education employees are eager to answer their questions with data. And, in many cases, they’re learning to ask better questions.

    “The great thing is that Tableau doesn't just answer the questions that you had. It also raises questions that you never knew you should be asking to begin with. It allows you to keep digging down until you actually find the whole root cause—which gives you the greatest impact when you fix it,” says Scott.

Overall, Scott feels that Tableau is helping educators—within Goodwill Education and at the schools at which they consult—maximize results.

“Now you can put a dashboard in front of someone that basically says: here are the areas you need to focus on and here are the students in those areas you need to be worried about. And the school is going to do a lot better overall—not because anyone's working harder, but because people know where they can get the biggest return on their time and energy,” Scott concludes.



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