A few short years ago, there was little to be found in the way of conversations on data science and design thinking in higher education and student success work, much less actual practice. That is clearly changing. If you follow my twitter feed (@markmilliron), you’ve seen the flood of recent coverage about this kind of work from our partner universities and colleges in almost a dozen publications including the New York Times, NationSwell, the Huffington Post, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. These stories are all available in our press room here, but let me unpack a few of my favorite highlights from this recent coverage of the work our committed partners are doing with us:
In the New York Times, the reporter Joseph Treaster references Illume™ Courses, and how we are now able to detect which foundational courses have the highest predictive influence on graduation. Here’s what the New York Times had to about what we found with El Paso Community College and the University of Arizona:
“Civitas Learning® found that the probability of graduating dropped precipitously if students got less than an A or a B in a foundational course in their major, like management for a business major or elementary education for an education major. El Paso Community College’s nursing hot spot was a foundational biology course. Anyone who got an A had a 71 percent chance of graduating in six years; those with a B had only a 53 percent chance.
At the University of Arizona, a high grade in English comp proved to be crucial to graduation. Only 41 percent of students who got a C in freshman writing ended up with a degree, compared with 61 percent of the B students and 72 percent of A students.”
Senior Vice Provost Melissa Vito is quoted as saying the university thought a student with a C in that course would be okay. But now, they know a C in freshman composition can be an indicator that the student is not going to succeed without additional timely resources to build and support writing skills. These kinds of discoveries are seriously game changing for students, and I’m excited about seeing broad adoption of Illume Courses across our community of practice this year.
In NationSwell, the coverage focuses on our shared goals to re-think and re-tool advising so that advisors can be the student-centric care providers they want and need to be, and still manage their existing, and often exhausting, work-loads. Our co-founder Charles Thornburgh shared this:
“Most students’ relationship with their adviser is fairly transactional. ‘What are the classes that I have to take next?’ And, ‘How do I enroll?’ Unfortunately, the conversation is hurried and infrequent,” says Charles Thornburgh, one of Civitas’s two co-founders. “Hopefully in the future, more tools will provide more personalized recommendations to students, with both the student and adviser coming in dramatically better informed about where the student is on the journey to success.”
The University of South Florida’s new case management model combines with the Civitas platform and apps to do just that by giving Academic Advocate Zumaly Ramirez access to timely predictions about student risk so that she may reach out to the right person, in the right way at the right time.
“With our freshmen, even though they do use their phones and technology a lot, I’m always surprised by how much they enjoy just sitting down for 30 minutes or an hour,” says Ramirez. “I see students change dramatically when they have a meeting face-to-face, rather than receive alerts on their phones.”
As the writer acknowledged: Especially when isolation drives disengagement, that human interaction can go a long way. And indeed, it is going a long way. University of South Florida has busted through a three-year plateau and is on track to be recognized for first-year retention rates that exceed 90% – a remarkable achievement that strongly supports the notion that demography is not destiny, and any student can succeed when given the right opportunities and support.
Never before has the smart adoption of solid predictive analytics been more important. The moral imperative to help students we increasingly know might face challenge is growing. My good friend and colleague Dr. William Serrata from El Paso Community College frequently points to the power of data to help form better conclusions about what students need to engage and to get them pathways to success and completion, as he does here in the Huffington Post:
“In a world where a degree is the price of admission for even entry-level jobs, college completion is fast becoming a moral imperative. And if we can’t improve the odds for low-income and first-generation college students, we risk excluding a generation from higher education’s promise of social and economic mobility. Higher education’s growing equity gap is complex and multifaceted, but it also reveals a troubling tradition in higher education: an over reliance on demographic data (like income and race/ethnicity) or past performance (like grades or GPA) to make assumptions about a student’s success in the future.”
Let me close by pointing to the courageous commitment from partners Steve Johnson and Laura Mercer at Sinclair College who were among the early leaders in this work. Here’s an insight from from the New York Times demonstrating how Laura is expanding their learning around how to better leverage predictions:
“At Sinclair, a C in General Psychology or in Foundations of Business was found to be a sign that students majoring in those subjects won’t make it. She decided to take a look at the records of a few students who had taken the psychology course.
One woman who was planning to major in psychology had taken it and three other courses as a freshman in the fall of 2014. She earned three A’s and a C.
“It was a pretty decent start,” Ms. Mercer said. “But guess what? The C was in Psych 1100.” In the spring of 2015, the student signed up for five classes. She withdrew from one. The next semester she withdrew from three of her five classes. This fall she took four classes and withdrew from all of them.
“It was just what the analytics had predicted,” Ms. Mercer said. “I tend to be a little skeptical. It wasn’t until I dove into the records and I saw, ‘Yes, indeed, this is a problem.’”
As this wave of analytics activity in higher education grows, there is still much to learn. We need to hold firm to a “do no harm” philosophy, coupled with a “help them make the most of their pathway” passion. From struggling students to high-achievers, there are insights and actions that can improve and expand learning journeys. I’m looking forward to hearing more about this good work from our leaders at our Civitas Learning partner institutions in Austin at our Summit, April 9 – 11; and to continuing to watch the world of education leverage data science and design thinking as they innovate to help more students succeed!