Repost from Medium

Education institutions have started to keep massive databases. Every detail about students is to be saved and prospective students, as well as the administration board, rely on these figures to make important decisions.

Retention rate stands for the number of students who decide to stay after the first year. Graduation rate, on the other hand, is how many of them actually finish within 4 or 6 years (for 4 year institutions). These two give a pretty good idea about how content the students are with the institution.

Graduation and retention rates account for 30% of the total score a school gets, for the ranking lists USNews publish every year. This ratio has the highest weight in their book. Looking at some nation-wide data; in 4 year degree-seeking programs, the national average for graduating in 6 years is only 59%. Again, in 4 year institutions, about 75% of the students make it to the second year. Consequently, about 25% of the students drop out after the first year, while another 15% leave in the following years.

Every student that drops out, has serious ramifications for both parties. Because of loans, students bear a huge burden. If they decide to change their school, they usually have to extend their education, which gives them less time to repay their loans. On the other hand, the schools make a lot less than what they expected from tuition fees.

Displaying a persistent improvement in retention and graduation rates can give students the assurance they need, before making a big commitment. Visualizing these numbers will give them a better understanding of how stable the student base is.

Retention and graduation data represent a change over time. As in every case where a trend data is to be visualized, common approaches come to mind. Pivot tables are useful, but they lack the capabilities of modern tools. State-of-the-art diagrams often provide better insight and new perspectives. Relations between different items can provide invaluable information, which would be impossible to reveal using conventional charts.

A basic pivot table is the most common approach for this type of data; a typical picture in several school websites. However, it falls short on displaying certain patterns.

Cohort Data on a Pivot Table

Alternatively, a similar visualization can be created using a heatmap. The layout is identical, but a legend and informative bubbles result in an interactive and user-friendly chart. Plus, having color coding gives it a better look.

The Same Cohort Data on a Heatmap

As you may have noticed, none of these visualizations can show us how each year’s admissions did against the rest. We can see the total number of students and how many were admitted in a given year, but we can’t see if this school has actually made any progress over the years. Let’s try visualizing the same data using a line chart.

Now, every year’s student base can be tracked very effectively; notice the sharp turns at the second and after fourth years on every line. The patterns suggest that this school had the peak number of admits in 2008 and has had a better retention rate for the last 4 years. Evidently, a line chart is a better choice for stressing how each year did.

Stepping up a bit, a bar chart is also a viable option. The totals of each year and how they fare against each other is clearly visible. In addition to most benefits of the line chart, we can also see the total number of students for each year, thanks to the “stacking” option.

There are various ways to visualize how many students make it through the curriculum. While a simple table won’t just cut it, modern visualizations come to aid and empower the presentation. Exposing the outliers and showing the trends is often only possible using modern visualization tools. Manifesting these details will help the scholastic network as a whole; by saving them time, effort and preventing conjectural decisions.