Jen Q. Public: Can analytics help fill the cracks in our education systems?

Digital Marketing Lead, Public Services Sector, IBM Analytics

September 10, 12:35 PM

Dear diary,

The 2016 Best Colleges ranking hit the newswire the week of September 7, 2015, and Twittersphere was abuzz as colleges found out their ranking.

While reviewing the rankings, I couldn’t help but think about students such as Johnny, who drop out of school after one year or less. And I wonder, is student retention a factor in ranking colleges and universities? Are educators and institutions of higher learning utilizing analytics to help students manage their workloads and stay in school? Should universities actively fight to close the cracks and stem student attrition? Can unstructured data help?

I’ve seen and heard stories of really smart young people who seemingly falter in college and fall through the cracks, and I strongly advocate for institutions of higher learning to actively fight to save our students. Just today at the water cooler I happened to overhear a few colleagues discussing the need for colleges and universities to personalize and engage students and how engagement is a critical piece of the retention equation. They also were adamant about the need for universities to leverage the student data they have—for example, data from abnormal dorm entries and departures—to identify the risk factors that may impact student retention.

And we need to identify these risk factors in real time so that we can adjust curriculum and engagement and give students the help they need before the end of the semester, which is too late. Another question is whether universities should do a better job than they are doing currently at recruiting the right students who will excel in the campus culture. Can analytics help?

As stated in the IBM white paper, Analytics for Achievement, “Student achievement is a result of a complex interplay of many variables. Background, curriculum, testing style, funding, class size and school size are just some of the possible factors behind performance. But when data is scattered across an organization in paper files or spreadsheets, solving the puzzle of success and failure is next to impossible.”

These variables are where analytics can transform education. Educators and institutions can leverage the data from attendance rosters, dorm rooms, financial aid, parking garages and more to answer several key questions:

  • What are the leading indicators of, and the reasons behind, low performance?
  • Which efforts, investments and factors affect student success?
  • How do attendance, involvement and discipline events relate to performance?

We need to fill the cracks in our education systems, and we need to do so with analytics.

Until next time,

Jen Q. Public

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