Ask A Researcher

December 2015

A Bold New Direction for the North Dakota University System - The NDUS Edge Dashboards

Jennifer Weber is a research analyst for the North Dakota University System (NDUS).  Her role with the NDUS includes all duties related to student data comprising annual system reporting, support of institution federal reporting, and responding to data requests from legislative council, media, and other entities. Jennifer also serves on a variety of state committees including the State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) Research committee, the SLDS Workforce committee, and the Department of Public Instruction State Assessment Task Force. In addition to her analyst duties, Jennifer is currently a doctoral student at North Dakota State University, enrolled in the Education Doctoral Program (EDP) with an emphasis on Institutional Analysis.


The North Dakota University System (NDUS) is a unified system of higher education governed by the State Board of Higher Education. Organized in 1990, the system includes two research universities, four regional universities and five community colleges. Led by the chancellor, the NDUS staff supports the State Board of Higher Education's (SBHE) mission to enhance the quality of life for all those served by the NDUS as well as the economic and social vitality of North Dakota. The SBHE is the policy-setting and advocacy body for the NDUS and the governing body for North Dakota's 11 publicly supported colleges and universities.

On Oct. 2, 2014, the State Board of Higher Education officially approved a North Dakota University System strategic plan called The NDUS Edge. The NDUS Edge is a five-year strategic plan that includes a framework for transformational change within the NDUS. It is considered a living document, that is, the State Board of Higher Education revisits the strategic plan at least once each year and revises as appropriate to achieve the NDUS goals.

With a mission of “unleashing potential” and a vision of “inspiring our future,” The NDUS Edge consists of four goals and 14 strategies to meet them. The four goals are to: 1) Deliver degrees that are the best value in the nation; 2) Provide programs people want, where and when they need them; 3) Equip students for success; and 4) Maximize the strengths of the unified system. Each strategy is tied to one or more metric indicators, with the purpose of measuring progress in accomplishing each goal.

In an ongoing effort to be transparent and accessible, in December 2015 the NDUS unveiled their first edition of the NDUS Dashboards. The NDUS Dashboards are a visual representation of the strategic plan indicators, with many of the indicators being “drillable.” Drillable indicators are those where the user can click on the NDUS goal and see statewide to institution specific data.

Why Dashboards?
In the past, strategic planning in the university system was done primarily on paper, and while the plan and progress reports could be found on the web, they were still in a traditional fixed report format. The NDUS Dashboards add an additional level of both transparency and accessibility to reporting. As the NDUS Dashboards are publicly available, they are accessible to anyone with internet access. Additionally, unlike traditional paper reporting, which is updated maybe once a year, the dashboards can be updated as new data becomes available. The ability to add new metric data to existing data also provides the ability to report data across multiple years, resulting in a longitudinal view of the data.

By far the “Wow” factor associated with the NDUS dashboards is the visual depiction of the data. Many people prefer visualizations to reading text, and the dashboards achieve this preference. The user has the ability to select the indicator they want to view, and then if they choose, they can drill down by institution or year. It gives the end user the power to control the data they see and arrange it in a way that makes sense to them.

What kind of information can be found on the NDUS Dashboards?
NDUS Dashboards include data for retention rates, graduation rates, number of degrees awarded, the number of ND high school graduates attending a ND college, among other metrics. In all, there are nearly 30 different indicators, many of which are displayed at the NDUS system level and can also be broken down to view institution-level data.

How is the data maintained?
Dashboard maintenance is a team effort. . Initially, several NDUS system office staff and UND Institutional Research staff collected the data from a variety of sources and converted it into a format that could be displayed. The first versions of the dashboard were built by the UND Institutional Research staff. As time goes on, the goal is to move more of the maintenance work to the system office staff. However, it will continue to be a collaborative project.

Currently we are working on a defined data maintenance plan, outlining each data element, the data source, and the timeframe for release of updated data. In the next year, we would like to have a systematic process based on the maintenance plan of collecting data and updating the dashboards at regular intervals throughout the year.

What has been the biggest challenge of dashboard implementation?
The biggest challenge was the identification of indicators that adequately measure the goals in The NDUS Edge. When choosing indicators, as researchers, we ask ourselves, “Are the indicators measurable? Is the data accessible? Is the data updated regularly?” Sometimes the work involved in gathering the indicator data is too complex and requires a lot of staff time. Sometimes the data used for the indicator has a large lag, and in such cases, we have to determine whether it is worthwhile as a metric.  We must consider whether the data is actionable, or if it merely acts as an indicator of progress.

Lag measures can be particularly confounding. For instance, one metric used on the dashboard is National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) graduation rates. Due to lag time in reporting, the current NCES rates are for the cohort of students who were freshmen in 2007. Therefore, using this NCES measure, it will be 2-3 additional years before the data on the dashboard reflects students who were in the system during the implementation of the NDUS Edge. The end user must keep this in perspective and not use the next few years of graduation data to judge the effectiveness of the strategic plan.

Where can I view dashboards?
The NDUS Dashboards can be viewed online by going to, and clicking on the Measurement Dashboards link.

Direct Link to the Dashboards:


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