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Colleges Using Big Data to Track At-Risk Students

by Fox Van Allen on December 05, 2014

College students at a lectureOver the last few years, our country’s obsession with technology has generated an absolutely massive amount of data – data that’s quite useful in predicting future trends and events. Doctors are spying on patients’ purchasing habits to classify their risk for disease. Police in Oakland, California are harnessing big data to help fight crime, while London’s Metropolitan Police is using data to predict crimes before they happen. Now, according to The New York Times, colleges have begun using data to predict which students may be at risk of dropping out, even before their grades start to falter.

At Ball State University in Indiana, students are given an ID card that they must use to swipe in everywhere – during class, at career events and even at school-sponsored parties after hours. School officials, in turn, monitor these swipes. If a student stops showing up to class or gives up on his or her extracurricular activities, the system will flag their name for contact by a school retention specialist. Georgia State University uses student data in a different way. There, student grades are tracked and compared against those of past students. The database then helps the student determine which major he or she would be most likely to excel at – one of the most difficult and important decisions a college student can make. Arizona State, meanwhile, uses student data to help schedule classes at the optimal times for students who need them.

Like with any big data effort, privacy is a concern. But universities here are all looking out for their students’ best interests, protecting their investment in their education. Georgia State University Vice Provost Timothy Renick says that the system benefits low-income students especially, who literally cannot afford to choose the wrong major. “They’re dropping out and they’re dropping out with debt and no college degree. We’re giving them at least a fighting chance.”

[College students in class via Shutterstock]


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