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Big Data and Student Performance

A growing number of colleges and universities are using big data to identify student performance and whether a student is in danger of failing. Known as predictive analytics, colleges are analyzing thousands upon thousands of student’s academic and personal records in an effort to save the average college student from dropping out.

With less than half of college students graduating in four years, institutions are facing increased pressure from parents and lawmakers to improve success rates. Is big data the answer? The New York Times reports that predictive analytic companies are growing in number, and currently work with around 200 universities. These companies, as noted by The New York Times, identify trends in a backlog of student data and create computer programs that identify student progress and alert counselors when students are at risk of being left behind. The idea being that a student’s performance in a certain course may predict the student’s future at the school.

Civitas Learning is a predictive analytics company that has been hired by dozens of colleges and universities across the country. The New York Times reports that data analysts at Civitas found the likelihood of graduating dropped if students received less than an A or B in a basic course pertaining to their major. The Times notes that at the University of Arizona, English Comp was essential to a student’s performance. Less than half of students who received a C in the class ended up graduating, while close to 70 percent of students with A’s and B’s received a degree. As a result, The University of Arizona began to provide more resources for its incoming freshman in writing. Frederick Corey, Vice Provost at Arizona State, said the school has been using big data to recommend possible courses for students. This helps students pursue classes that may otherwise not count toward their major, saving wasted tuition and crucial credit hours.

The payoffs in predictive analytics have been worth it at Arizona State University. Since beginning the program nearly a decade ago, the school has seen its graduation rate grow by 20 percent. At Georgia State, in 2016 the four-year graduation rate rose 5 percent and the six-year rate rose 6 percent. By monitoring graduation rates, big data helps keep tuition coming in by keeping students from dropping out. Predictive analytics is still in its infancy, as only a few hundred institutions are currently using the system. However, as technology and data continue to integrate themselves into higher education, colleges and universities are becoming more open to the idea of its use.

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