Skip to content

V6I1: Strategic Data Dashboard Use to Enhance System and Institutional Effectiveness

Rob Garrett and Nathan Lindsay; Brigham Young University-Idaho and Church Educational System of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

For decades, institutions and systems within higher education have been working to make more data-informed decisions. This is true of the Church Educational System (CES) for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which consists of Brigham Young University, BYU-Idaho, BYU-Hawaii, BYU-Pathway Worldwide, Ensign College, and Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. Taken together, the enrollments in these CES entities are nearly 1 million students. We have a unified mission and are striving to work as a system. Given the size and complexity of the system, it has been imperative that data be organized and used strategically and effectively. This article outlines the principles that guide data use in CES and then highlights the data dashboard for the system, including an institutional example from BYU-Idaho.

Principles Guiding Data Use

Four principles have been important in strengthening each institution’s capacity to integrate research, data, and an information infrastructure to assist in decision-making. These are as follows:

1) Anchor on your purpose:

Use metrics that align with and support the mission and strategy. Some data are important and crucial, while other data do not matter. Thus, it is essential to distinguish up front what data points are key to the institution’s or system’s purpose. In order to use data this way, the mission and strategy of an organization must be clear and actionable.

2) Identify key drivers and constraints:

Identify metrics that amplify purpose and constrain tradeoffs. Understanding whether the mission and strategy are realized is key to using data. Therefore, using data that elevates mission and constrains tradeoffs helps prevent organizational drift.

3) Do not overanalyze or over-index:

Like a car dashboard, an institutional dashboard should provide simple points of data at a glance. It is easiest to keep the dashboard on one page. If the high-level data that points to mission and strategy signals more analysis, engage in the deeper data activities using other tools.

4) Adapt your culture:

Using dashboards and data tied to mission and purpose needs to become part of the organizational culture. The data are not the decision makers, but the data must inform decision makers. Therefore, in the organizational culture, find the appropriate place or processes by which to use data to make decisions.

CES Dashboard

Over the course of this past year, these principles have provided a strong foundation for the development of a system-wide dashboard. A CES Institutional Research committee, consisting of representatives from each of the institutions, met monthly to align on which metrics to use and how to define each of these data points. As shown in the table below, the metrics focus on three key areas: Raise the Quality, Lower the Cost, and Increase the Reach. As one example, Lower the Cost metrics include tracking institutional credits, total credits, cost per FTE, and cost per graduate.

The specific data for each of these metrics are not provided in this article, given that they are primarily intended for internal purposes. The primary intention of the dashboard is not to compare schools, because each has differentiated strategies, but rather to use the data for triangulation and discussion on these topics. Toward that end, it should be noted that the data from these areas are being used by campus presidents and their leadership teams to guide institutional strategy and decisions. In addition to this first page of the dashboard, there is a second page in which each school can share institution-specific metrics, particular to their campus. Each fall the CES dashboard is updated. 

BYU-Idaho’s Data Dashboard

At a more local level, the BYU-Idaho Institutional Dashboard aligns directly with the Mission & Core Themes of the university. The university’s mission is to develop disciples of Jesus Christ who are leaders in their homes, the Church, and their communities. Supporting core themes help build testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, provide high-quality education, serve as many students as possible, and deliver education that is affordable. The Mission & Core Themes state the purpose of BYU-Idaho.

Using data that point to the Mission & Core Themes provides a window into the areas that matter most at BYU-Idaho. For example, it includes measures on spirituality, learning, student achievement, enrollment, and cost.

As shown in the table below, specific metrics were selected for the dashboard that help the university to navigate through the natural tensions of delivering high-quality education to as many students as possible, while keeping the offerings affordable. The dashboard also provides important insights that not only support the purpose but also bring light to possible strategic drift. To illustrate, providing data that share teaching and learning activities or student access insights signals what is important to the university and illustrates if desired strategic outcomes are met.

This focus on high-level institutional purposes and the related selected data allows the university to not overanalyze or over-index. Instead, the data provide a window into what really matters for the university. If further investigation is needed, other data tools are used to analyze deeper issues. Disaggregated data are utilized in this approach for analysis and decision-making. This method then connects data analysis efforts to the dashboard and institutional purpose. Using data in this manner allows for simple dashboards that signal if further investigation is needed-just like a car dashboard.

The dashboard has helped with facilitating needed change. To illustrate, data points related to student achievement caused the university to focus on and understand more about students’ experiences and chances for completion. After viewing the data and associated analysis, we recognized that at-risk students did not have a strong path to graduation. For example, the data showed that our re-take policy was hurting students. To respond to these issues, practices and policies were changed to better support students. These changes included an updated retake policy that used the most recent grade in the students’ GPA calculation for all retakes. These changes also included academic renewal and support for the most academically at-risk students. In this example, the data from the dashboard and reports brought many people together from across the university to make changes that will better serve students.

These changes also provided another point of disaggregation for at-risk students. More importantly, those policy changes created a realistic path to completion without undermining graduation requirements. The visibility of students’ circumstances allows for ongoing dialogue and support measures. For instance, an academic department recently changed the curriculum once the students within the department became visible through data to the academic leaders and others.

Dashboard efforts are never finished and are constantly evaluated. With the improvement of data analysis tools, the university is looking to update the dashboard framework. The metrics that are used for the dashboard are also constantly reviewed. Just recently, the academic office requested a change to include an actual development period instead of only using approved plans that bring better insight to execute the plans for faculty development. That request was approved and the data replaced an outdated and less accurate data point. Dashboarding efforts have made a difference at BYU-Idaho and will continue to be refined as the university moves forward to accomplish its mission.


As outlined in this article, the development of a system-wide dashboard (based on foundational guiding principles) has helped CES and its individual institutions prioritize their strategies and shape decision making. We are working to strengthen institutional research through the sharing of common metrics and best practices across the system. Having strong dashboards certainly provides support for accreditation efforts at each institution. When institutional strategy is clear and data are used effectively, institutions are much more likely to achieve mission fulfillment.

In addition, our hope is that this article provides input to others on the use of disaggregated data dashboards for continuous improvement to inform planning, decision making, and allocation of resources, aligned with the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities Standards for Accreditation. Such data and indicators can also be used to benchmark against peer institutions at the regional and national levels and be used to promote student success.


Sign up for our Newsletter

Explore the latest issue of NWCCU’s quarterly newsletter, The Beacon, and discover educational resources, innovations, and events happening in the Northwest.