Science develops an algorithm for college selection—but does it work?

By Bridget McCrea
November 16th, 2015

Companies turn to scientific modeling and algorithms to help narrow down college selection, with the goal of dramatically decreasing dropout rate.

algorithm-college-selectionA new algorithm is using data and predictive analytics to determine, with noteworthy accuracy (90 percent), which institution is the best match for students. What makes it Jetson’s-worthy is that the algorithm doesn’t just match based on the student’s personality and goals now, but provides the best match for the student in the future and over time.

The algorithm was jump-started in the face of aimless college selection and high dropout rates. Selecting a new college or a transfer college is often an arbitrary process that’s often based on geographic location, availability of specific majors, a family attachment to a particular institution, or even a favorite collegiate sports team. And while transfer students already have a “taste” of what college is like – and are equipped with more information than the typical high school senior – unless they are proactive about seeking help, most receive very little support in this area.

As a result, students are largely left to their own devices and expected to “figure things out” on their own. The problem is that while 75 percent of students are consistently accepted into their first-choice university, only one-in-two college freshman ultimately graduate, according to vibeffect’s College Optimizer Index. Even more alarming is the fact that of the 80 percent of students who leave high school and enter 2-year colleges (intending to earn a 4-year degree) just 12 percent ever achieve that goal.

“America’s college dropout rate is pretty high, particularly in the online education space,” says Dave Hawn, president and CEO at ECMC Group in Oakdale, Minn., and interim CEO at Zenith Education Group (which is currently working with vibeffect to develop a higher education survey). “Students are flocking to both online and ‘ground’ programs, but a high percentage of them either don’t find the right match on the first college choice or wind up dropping out due to sheer frustration and the pressures of everyday life.”

Putting Science and Technology to Work

A couple of companies are taking a stab at the problem and using technology to help students make better choices for both selecting a college and transferring to a new one. In Washington, D.C., vibeffect has developed an algorithm-based, college-decision framework platform that students and families can use to scientifically narrow down their choices. This “unbiased, fact-based lens” costs $96 (per report) and uses a list of 66 different variables associated with the individual and measures those variables against the features of over 1,000 colleges.

(Next page: How the algorithm works and its efficacy)

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