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Hey! Why does my data look different?

By Luis Oquendo, Manager of Analytics: The University Analytics and Institutional Reporting Office

We’ve all been there…meeting with a colleague, browsing UAIR’s fabulous website, or perhaps consulting with an UAIR analyst when you realize: hey, why does my data look different? You double check and triple check your numbers, but counts still don’t match up. It doesn’t make any sense!

What happens next is understandable: the natural reaction is that there’s been some sort of mistake. Admittedly, since the data we deal with comes from humans and is managed by humans, mistakes will indeed occur from time-to-time. We understand this can be frustrating and confusing. In such instances, data architects and data analysts strive to address such mistakes and document them so that they are avoided in the future.

In many other circumstances, however, your data does indeed look different and it’s not a mistake. More importantly, there are many trackable and logical reasons for why your data looks different. The goal is to be aware of those reasons and seek to understand them. Outlined below are many of the common reasons why data and information that is shared across the University of Utah often looks different.

Conclusions and Recommended Best Practices

I know what you’re thinking: great, thanks for the long-winded explanation of why my data looks different, but what am I supposed to do with this? Which data am I supposed to use? The answer depends on what your ultimate goal is. If we stick with the example of student data, both UAIR data and SDW data can be extremely useful for data-driven strategic planning, decision making, and statistical analyses. However, there are some recommended best practices associated with each source of data. When it comes to data for the University of Utah’s budget process and/or data for public consumption (media, websites, public reports, grants, etc.), we recommend the utilization of UAIR data. This is because UAIR data is already utilized for official reporting, it is publicly available, and it can be easily verified by third parties. In contrast, SDW data is only available internally to school officials at the University of Utah. Still, SDW data becomes extremely useful in day-to-day operations such as when live data snapshots are needed, specific/custom queries are needed, and personally identifiable information is needed. In conclusion, sources of data, snapshots, and definitions all contribute to why your data may look different. Ultimately, however, there are several sources of “good” data, we just have to make sure we are aware of them.

Data Availability Calendar

SDW: Updated End of Term Snapshot for Previous Fall Term available (grades, unofficial end-of-term enrollment)
SDW: Start of Term Snapshot for Active Spring Term available (unofficial enrollment counts, course registration)