Repost from Medium

Schools create fact books to demonstrate what prospective students should expect from the institution. These documents often include basic information about the school, its values, goals, student body and the classes. As useful it is, students often refer to these documents when they are trying to make one of the hardest decisions of their lives.

Thanks to school policies and several types of grants, population of students in higher education institutions continues to get more diverse. According toACT, retention and completion rates are also showing improvement. For many people, these are decisive factors in measuring a school’s success and managements set goals based on these statistics. Naturally, such information can often be found in all fact books.

Every school that understands the importance of data transparency and wants their prospective students to relate to their targets and values, should first understand their target audience. Walls of numbers and tables can be intimidating and very few would actually go through all those details. To make this data meaningful and appealing to the eye, showing it on graphs or diagrams is a great approach. This way, Generation Y will have little trouble understanding how much progress the school made over the years and how the school is getting closer to or exceeding its targets.

Looking at some school fact books, we often see pivot tables similar to this:

On this pivot table, the only thing you can see at a glance are the totals. The details; their correlation with each other or proportions in the total are simply not there. You have to look at every row and column, dividing and adding numbers in order to reveal the trends. Comprehending the whole table and what the numbers signify, can easily take several minutes. If we were to visualize this table, here is what it looks like:

With this stacked bar chart, we can clearly see the total headcount, breakdown of each year and the trends of the groups; three birds with one stone.

Here is another unsuited table that appears in fact books very often; a list of student home states.

Having a table of states or countries is never a good idea and simply provides your audience very little information. Putting these figures on a map would make a lot more sense. This way, we would save some space and avoid a boring wall of text.

With this kind of data, in addition to a more appealing view, a map also provides additional insight. For example, we can also simply add up a few states and come up with the regional data, or see how other campuses are doing in terms of traction on the other side of the country.

Let’s take a look at a more complex table. Here, we have 3 groups and the corresponding populations.

Now, let’s look at that table from a different perspective:

This bundle of chords and blocks is called Sankey Diagram. At first look, this diagram doesn’t look like it’s providing all the information we need. That’s where the beauty of interactive visualizations come in. When you mouse-over the chords, you can see the breakdown of every group. The totals of every layer are there and all that is left to do for the users is to discover the data simply by moving around their mouse.

Decision makers in the school management too usually refer to student demographics and they rarely have time to go through every detail in the reports. Cutting down rows and rows of data into a single image that has all the information, would substantially increase operating efficiency. Ultimately, both the students and the faculty can benefit from having school data in an appealing and informative form.