As higher education comes under increasing public scrutiny, Texas A&M University is taking an unprecedented step. The flagship institution is opening up its books – and posting them on the web for the world to see. Beginning today, anyone who wants answers about such hot topic issues as graduation and retention rates, faculty workloads, demographics, student indebtedness and a host of other topics can easily access that information at http://accountability.tamu.edu.
“In this 150th anniversary year of the Morrill Act, which established our country’s incomparable system of land-grant institutions and opened the opportunity of higher education to all, it is unfortunate that higher education faces new questions about its impact,” said Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin. “At Texas A&M, we want to do everything in our power to ensure the public trust in all we do. We know we have a significant impact on Texas and the country through our teaching, groundbreaking research and the extension of knowledge to the public at large through service, partnership and outreach, but we want to have an equal impact in terms of accountability and transparency.”
With this mandate, the university turned to Joe Pettibon, associate vice president for academic services, and his team to create a site that lays bare not only the data that Texas A&M measures, but also what data the university considers important to its strategic decision making.
The challenge: to aggregate all existing data into one easy-to-access, user-friendly, comprehensive website that provides all stakeholders, internal and external, with an unprecedented look at accountability at Texas A&M.
“We used Tableau software to develop a dynamic website that provides large amounts of information in a compact format with real-time changes,” Pettibon said. “If you want to drill down, the tool recalculates the charts in real-time. This is a bold step in transparency that holds the university to the highest standards regarding how we use our resources. However, the site will always be a work in progress as information is added, updated, and improved to address what is happening in higher education and the university.”
Although much of the accountability data has been available to the general public before now, interested parties had to navigate their way around the web and throughout various pages within the Texas A&M main website in order to find the information they wanted, often without knowing where to look. There was no primary site where one could compare the metrics regarding the students, courses, costs and degree programs at Texas A&M with its peer institutions. There was no easy way to compare metrics among the colleges without searching through lengthy static reports of data on several different websites.
The new accountability website makes all of the above possible, along with much more. The fact that it is a living and dynamic site means no more scrambling around for data or annual reports. Perhaps most importantly, the site will be online and always available to prospective students and their parents, current students, faculty and staff, legislators and the general public.
“Aside from the impact we can make in being open and transparent to all stakeholders, this real-time data helps department heads, deans and university administration look at trends and when needed, make adjustments,” said Dr. Karan L. Watson, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “This data has directed our 12-year pursuit of the Culture of Excellence envisioned by the Vision 2020 imperatives, now it is clear for all to easily see.”