Friday, March 10, 2017

Predicting Drop Out Danger

The statistics on college completion rates are grim. Fewer than two-thirds of college students graduate in six years, and less than half within four years of enrolling. Failure to graduate doesn't erase the debts these students often incur while working towards a degree they don't receive. It's a significant problem for students, their families, and colleges.

One of many approaches to helping reduce the number of students who fail to complete their degree was discussed recently in The New York Times Education Life section. Some colleges are using a technique known as predictive analytics to look at how student performance in specific courses can predict whether students will be successful in obtaining their degree -- or whether they will fail or drop out before graduation. The most predictive courses are those that are designed to give students the foundation for success in later courses.

So, for example, the Times article notes that nursing students at one school who got an A in an introductory biology course had a 71 percent chance of graduating; those who got a B in the same course had only a 53 percent chance. It isn't just differences between grades of A and B that matter. Schools that use this approach to monitoring student performance have found that grades of C or D in specific courses can be early signs of real academic difficulties, even if the student's other grades are higher.

This same proactive use of data can help schools monitor everything from whether students have signed up for the correct course sequence for their intended major, to whether they are logging into the school library regularly. Certainly, privacy issues can come up as the use of student data expands. The use of predictive analytics has not been in place long enough, or broadly enough, to provide statistics on whether its use has a long term impact on student retention and graduation rates. And schools note that raw data without strong advising to support struggling students is not sufficient. Still, this is an interesting tool that may prove useful in helping more students to complete their college education.

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