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Partner Stories

Campaign to ‘Free the Data’ at the University of Montana Transforms IR’s Work—and Supports Enrollment Growth

University of Montana


University of Montana (UM) is the flagship institution of the Montana University System and enrolls 11,000 students.

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    The Challenge

    The University of Montana has suffered from enrollment declines over the past decade. Poor governance hampered attempts to remedy the decline. Data was stored in separate systems that only experts could access, reports were hard to compile, and different teams often produced different answers to the same question. Data-informed recommendations were sometimes ignored because leaders received conflicting figures.

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    The Solution

    UM partnered with EAB’s education data platform, Edify, to improve data governance and increase access. Edify aggregates and organizes all campus data into one environment with a single point of access. With newly centralized data, UM’s team of developers can easily export data to over 50 dashboards they’ve built in Tableau, making validated data available for analysis and decision support across campus.

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    The Results

    UM’s Institutional Research (IR) team regained hours previously spent manually updating dashboards. The IR team is using this new time for higher-order analyses, for example, developing KPIs for the five initiatives in the UM strategic plan and analyzing historical student accounts data to create an interactive dashboard that will help maximize the impact of tuition waivers on enrollment.


Without the infrastructure of Edify, strategic analyses are too labor-intensive. You’re saving us having to hire a lot more staff.


Dawn Ressel, Associate Vice President of Strategic Planning and Analysis

Breaking the Cycle of Indecision

UM’s “Free the Data” Campaign Moves Data Users from Debate to Action

Since 2016, UM’s Associate Vice President of Strategic Planning and Analysis, Dawn Ressel, has led a campaign to “free the data,” to move UM’s campus data from a matrix of siloed and hard-to-access systems to an environment in which users across the university can easily access reliable information. In 2020, UM partnered with Edify to further this work. With Edify, UM will have a centralized hub of certified data that can be exported to Tableau dashboards for reference and analysis. Before these improvements, disagreements about data accuracy frequently stalled progress on strategic initiatives.



Enabling Strategic Analytics

Edify Partnership Will Help Move IR from Data Gathering to Analysis

Before partnering with Edify, UM’s IR team spent most of their time completing ad hoc analyses and manually updating dashboards. As data starts flowing through Edify, they will regain significant time:

  • UM’s Associate Vice President of Strategic Planning and Analysis estimates Edify will save her team one month’s work every year given the 5 to 10 hours they spend regularly updating each of 30 dashboards.
  • Recently, an EAB data expert was able to understand and decode UM’s student accounts data in a one-hour call, something the UM IR team had struggled with for years due to limitations in the SIS.

With more time available, the IR team and data experts across campus will be able to refocus their energy on strategic analytics. This includes developing KPIs to measure progress on the five priorities of the UM strategic plan.

Data to Operationalize Strategic Goals

Maximizing Tuition Assistance to Increase Enrollment

Dashboard Will Track Waivers to Monitor Net Tuition Amounts and Student Enrollments

Over the last eight years, enrollment at UM continued to decline despite their low tuition price compared to other state flagship institutions. In response, UM offered tuition waivers to encourage enrollment. Recognizing that the University can’t increase the amount of tuition waivers indefinitely, the IR team is using Edify to build a dashboard that will track and analyze years of tuition waiver data to determine which enrollment strategies work. The specific goals of the dashboard are to:

  • Find the band of tuition waiver amounts that lead to enrollment so UM can then make the most of their resources
  • Develop leading indicators to create earlier visibility into whether UM has more money to offer (currently, this data is not available until the fall)

Dashboard Plans in Detail

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    • Waiver amounts granted
    • Enrollment
    • Net tuition revenue
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    • Operations and Finance
    • Enrollment Management
    • President’s Cabinet

    Users will be able to toggle between historical and live data