Nov 25 2015

Higher Ed Big Data Dives Could Be the Answer to Retention Problems

Predictive analytics have helped some institutions get ahead of student retention problems.

There's a problem with higher ed retention, and data could provide a solution.

Even though college degrees are the gateway to many high-level jobs, nearly half of students who start college don't end up graduating within six years, according to the US Department of Education. That limits their options in life and hinders enrollment growth at higher education institutions.

Helix Education, an agency that gives higher ed institutions more options to boost enrollment efforts, recently released  Predictive Student Retention: The Power of Data Coaching, a guide that encourages schools to take a deep dive into Big Data.

"The power of your retention strategy comes in finding correlations between all of this student information and how your students actually persist – connecting data between systems and creating predictive models based upon the insights gathered," according to the guide.

Data-driven predictive models can provide academic coaches with red flags when students are floundering in classes. They can then swoop in with support strategies to ensure that students stay on course to graduate.

Helix isn't the first to develop a technology solution to higher ed retention problems.

At a White House summit last December, President Barack Obama lauded a similar technique used at Georgia State University to curb its student dropout rates. The university employs predictive analytics that track students facing financial risks, particularly those who are traditionally underrepresented. The solution has resulted in more than 3,000 interventions to help students stay in school, according to a news release from the White House.

These solutions have also entered the startup market. The Robin Hood Foundation, a New York City-based nonprofit, is giving away a $5 million prize for proven innovative tech tools that help community college students stay enrolled and get their degree within two or three years. Three startup finalists are currently testing their solutions in a three-year control trial that kicked off in the fall.

The college-dropout problem has even drawn the interest of Shark Tank's Mark Cuban. He has invested in tech solutions that he says can save institutions money.

 “I’m looking from an investment perspective for companies that support keeping kids in school,” says Cuban in an interview on the Bloomberg Business program Market Makers. “If a school keeps a kid and graduates them in four years, that’s a much more cost-effective graduation for the school.”

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