Leveraging Power BI on a University Campus to Efficiently Track Student Success

A student sits atop a skateboard on university steps.

Guest post by Ken Nelson, MD, MS who is the Associate Director of the Office of Educational Effectiveness and the Institutional Researcher at Loma Linda University in California.  

The benefits of academic dashboards are frequently presented, yet the high cost of many solutions leave small institutions struggling to find a viable option. The university I am associated with was no different. Loma Linda University (LLU) has an annual enrollment of about 5,000 students. In looking for a method to deploy dashboards, and with the understanding of existing budgetary constraints, we looked at what was currently available on campus.

Microsoft Office with SharePoint was used across campus and offered the tools needed. With that in mind, we decided the most economical route would be to use Excel Power Pivot in SharePoint. The reports we created were informative, but access to SharePoint at Loma Linda University was limited to on-campus or VPN. Limited access presented an extra step for users and limited the ability to use the reports. With the release of Power BI and the ability to use the same data models that were developed in Excel Power Pivot, Power BI offered a low-cost, robust solution that allowed for visually appealing dashboards that could be accessed on any device with internet access.

Since a dashboard in Power BI is based on tiles that represent specific KPIs or key charts, and are displayed as hyperlinked visuals, we strived to present the tiles in an intuitive logical fashion. Our example illustrated below has 34 tiles — each linked to an underlying page.


Example of tiles in Power BI dashboard

Underlying reports, such as those following, are hyperlinked from the tiles of the main dashboard.

Application Metrics


Acceptance rate and yield (registered students divided by accepted students) is gathered by selecting year, school, campus, degree, faith, and race/ethnicity.


Example of application metrics featuring a university's acceptance rate and yield

Student to Instructor Ratios


Selection is available down to the department level. An animated graph traces a ten-year average of students per class. Box plots provide additional metrics.


Power BI dashboard showing student to instructor ratios

Graduation and completion rates


Both graduation rate (on time completion) and overall completion rate (all time) are available for every program on campus and can be filtered by cohort, school, or degree.


Power BI showing graduation and completion rates

Enrollment demographics


A wide variety of student demographics and trends are available. You can select by school, campus, academic level, and term. Metrics like FTE YOY are available by selection.


Power BI showing enrollment demographics

Power BI can also be used to provide qualitative as well as quantitative data.


Our University uses a proprietary assessment management system that while working well for data collection was not user friendly in providing status reports. To resolve this a Power BI dashboard was developed that provides an overall status report. This report provides visualizations of both quantitative and qualitative data.


Power BI providing qualitiative and quantitive university data

The qualitative data visualization, such as action plans in program review, is text searchable and provides a narrative style report.


Qualitative data visualization with searchable text

While these reports are secure and private, a public facing dashboard is available for preview.

By leveraging the data models created in Excel Power Pivot, through Power BI, our dashboards are informative, visually appealing, and low-cost.


Ken Nelson, MD, MS is the Associate Director of the Office of Educational Effectiveness and the Institutional Researcher at Loma Linda University, a non-profit, faith-based, health-sciences institution. Previously he spent 25 years as the medical director for a health education NGO, traveling to over 50 countries. Dr. Nelson has been instrumental in promoting evidence-based student success endeavors at LLU. He has been on faculty at the School of Allied Health Professions for the past 10 years. Comments and suggestions are welcome and can be sent to [email protected].