Many colleges and universities are just beginning to understand how to leverage vast amounts of data.

big-data-skillsWhile the definition of Big Data remains in flux among campus technologists, the growing importance of tools that help schools distill mountains of information is an emerging focal point for college IT officials.

Any company or organization that can help a campus — no matter its size — make sense of data and help improve the learning experience will prove more than a little valuable in higher education.

The ways in which data usage and distillation is changing basic college campus operations are numerous and continuing to grow.

From assessing a student’s performance based on previous education and experience to using a “robot advisor” application to analyze student profiles and suggest courses, the ability to leverage data is of real and growing importance to university decision makers throughout the institution.

Higher education institutions in recent years have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in data research and tools. Some universities are putting up this money themselves, while others are relying on government and organization grants.

A recent report by the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that “open data” alone (Big Data that is made freely available to others) would “unlock $3 trillion to $5 trillion in economic value annually across seven sectors.”

Here are a few Big Data companies and services that could help colleges and universities make better use of campus data…

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Platfora: This West Coast data company has officially waged war on the “gut decision” with the use of tools that provide flexible and agile data parsing for colleges and businesses alike. Platfora makes data available for analyzing in a distinctly interactive way while making the solution scalable as data grows.

“Here’s an industry secret that lies beneath all the news hype on big data today: after two decades of nonstop advances in business intelligence technologies, organizational leaders are still using their gut to make decisions 95 percent of the time,” Platfora CEO Ben Werther said in March at a data conference. “The reason why is because most people cannot get their hands on accurate decision-support information in time.”

Civitas Learning: The Austin-based company uses a cloud-based analytics platform to provide real-time suggestions to faculty, administrators, and students by aggregating information from student enrollment data, financial aid profiles and learning management systems. The Civitas tools parse data from more than 3 million student records and 15 million course enrollment records to offer recommendations on decisions like selecting a degree and identifying at-risk students.

YarcData: This company’s unique approach to analyzing Big Data is centered around a focus on a discovery process that “demands the ability to ask questions in an ad hoc, iterative fashion, to add new data sources on the fly as required, and to do all of this without modeling the data beforehand.” Understanding data, the company charges, is hard work, and oftentimes messy even for experienced technologists.

“The essence of what discovery is cannot be changed to fit an analytics engine and still be discovery. We get it,” YarcData’s website reads. “That’s why we built Urika – purpose-built real-time platform for big data discovery.”


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