Jan 07 2015
Data Analytics

A Big Data-Powered ‘GPS’ Helps Colleges Boost Graduation Rates

Predictive analytics help schools identify and aid struggling students.

With graduation rates declining since the economic downturn began in 2008, universities have created innovative data analysis that is helping more students earn degrees.

Amazon and Netflix have both benefited from incorporating predictive analytics based on data-tracking techniques. A customer’s past purchases can be used to predict what they’ll buy in the future. So why not apply the same approach for students and their academic success?

About 125 U.S. postsecondary schools are using a student performance tracking system based on data from thousands of students and millions of grades, according to Time. In addition to grades, schools can use factors such as the timing of a student’s college application and the number of classes enrolled in to predict whether that student will graduate.

Similarly, in 2012, Georgia State University began using predictive analytics, which university President Mark P. Becker calls the “GPS advising system.” The system analyzes 2.5 million grades to make predictions such as how students may perform in the future based on their grades in the first course of their major, according to Time.

“The system tracks all 25,000 of our undergraduate students every single day, with data elements being updated nightly,” Becker said in his 2014 State of the University address "There are more than 700 different alerts in the system that can be triggered, notifying advisers when a student is going off track.”

A grade C or lower in the first class of a student’s major is treated as a red flag, according to Timothy Renick, the university’s vice president for enrollment management and student success. The system has found that only 25 percent of those students are likely to graduate in contrast to 85 percent of those students who receive As or Bs, Time reported. Flagged students are invited to meet with academic counselors to help get them back on track. Low-income, minority and first-generation college students are most at risk of failing to graduate, according to a university video.

President Barack Obama lauded Georgia State’s system during a December summit at the White House, where education leaders discussed strategies to increase higher education graduation rates. To incentivize innovation on that front, the U.S. Department of Education launched the First in the World competition in May. A pool of $75 million in grants will be distributed to institutions that can demonstrate new techniques for enrolling and graduating more “underrepresented, underprepared or low-income students,” as well as making education more affordable.


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