University Identifies Nearly Untapped Student Market with Tableau

A university in the Northeast region of the United States was enjoying booming enrollment. But with the entire higher education industry facing a lean future, the university wanted to make more use of its data. Today, administrators are benefiting from daily—rather than weekly—data insight and better recruiting decision-making. Even more exciting, they have identified a promising new market for student recruiting.

A large U.S. university wanted to optimize recruiting decisions and speed insights—all part of preparing for upcoming challenges facing the higher education industry as a whole.

Preparing for Challenging Times Ahead

While the current economic downtown has led to a boom in student enrollment, long-term projections for the higher education sector are less rosy. Population and economic changes are expected to create definite challenges for universities and colleges across the U.S.

Administrators at a university in the Northeast region of the U.S. realized that making the most of current recruiting investments and identifying promising new markets for potential students would be a critical step in preparing for these upcoming changes.

University recruiters typically focused their efforts within the school’s home state. Representatives from the university travelled to a series of out-of-state recruiting fairs every other year, but had no insight into which fairs delivered the best results.

Administrators also wanted to improve management of a complex environment. With tens of thousands of students and thousands of employees and millions of dollars of revenue coming from multiple streams, answering questions and identifying opportunities was very difficult. A leader within the Provost Office noticed that data seemed to “wash over” people when presented in a spreadsheet format.

Finally, difficulties with manipulating data slowed access to updated information. In the Graduate School, for example, reports were produced only once per week.

Tableau Spreads across the University

The Assistant Vice-Provost for the university noticed Tableau in the 2012 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms report. After reaching out to colleagues for recommendations—and hearing positive feedback about Tableau—users in the Provost Office downloaded a free, two-week trial of Tableau.

Employees were able to put together a usable dashboard in less than two hours without prior experience or training, a success the Assistant Vice-Provost describes as “the clincher.”

After seeing the Provost Office’s successes with Tableau, the Graduate School staffer decided to adopt Tableau as well.

Today, the university has roughly 30 users authoring visualizations with Tableau Desktop and more than 100 people consuming the visualizations. The school has invested in Tableau Server for publishing and sharing interactive data visualizations. For security, they use Active Directory for authorization.

Users typically import data from the university’s centralized data center. The team most often works with data stored in Microsoft SQL Server or Oracle.


Today, the university has identified a number of benefits gained through Tableau, including:

  • Prioritizing Recruitment Dollars. Graduate School staffers are visualizing historical recruitment data, including recruiting fair attendance and tracking students from inquiry through enrollment. Immediately after creating the dashboard, the dean noticed several fairs that provided higher yields than others—information that hadn’t been on the school’s radar previously. While the numbers were there in the spreadsheets, the insight wasn’t noticeable until the data was visualized in a bar chart. Based on this information, the Graduate School has adjusted its plans for the next recruiting cycle.
  • Faster Access to Data—at a Reduced Workload. The Graduate School has gone from weekly insight into activity to daily. Once built, dashboards can be updated in seconds with a simple data refresh. As such, gaining daily insight with Tableau is actually less work than the weekly, Excel-based effort. Because Tableau Server allows for easy mobile access to dashboards, the dean can log in every morning from his Apple iPad, to see what has changed before his workday has even started.
  • Identifying New Recruiting Markets. The most important result with Tableau came from a serendipitous discovery. After combining internal data with some publicly-available data and animating the results, the Provost Office has identified a new recruiting market that they expect to be extremely high-yield. Indeed, they expect this finding to help the university weather the dark clouds ahead.