Analytics Help, Especially in Community Colleges

mattlawson_300By Matt Lawson, NetApp

Analytics can play an impactful role on any campus by way of: increasing student success, improving financial aid efficiency, minimizing time to a credential, and making our campuses safer. Big data and analytics are a formidable tool that can help identify students at academic risk and thereby enabling much needed proactive intervention to help those students succeed in college. When I was the Director of Enterprise Services for Virginia’s Community Colleges, improving student success was a cornerstone strategic goal for the community colleges.

Community colleges face unique challenges with student success; in the U.S., at least 50 percent of entrants need at least one year of developmental education in order to be prepared for entry-level college courses. In improving student success, we found that if a student attended their classes, they had an increased chance of at least attaining a “C” or better in their class. This applied to online courses, which can be especially difficult for many learners as online, Internet-based education is largely self-directed and self-paced.

Because all of the courses at our colleges were hosted in a single LMS, we had the capability to track student’s virtual engagement by looking at their “clicks” in the online courseware. This type of information could prove to be valuable in improving student success. The data could show which students are most engaged and least engaged. Trending the data over time could also show which students were declining in engagement with their courses. With this information, it would be possible to set up automated alerts and workflows to connect academic advisors to intervene with students who were disengaged or trending towards disengagement, thereby improving the chances of their success.

Through examples like this, we can see where big data and analytics can have a meaningful impact on higher education.

Matt Lawson is a principal architect for NetApp U.S. Public Sector focusing on state and local government and education customers.  Prior to joining NetApp, Matt spent over 17 years in IT in a Higher Education environment. He was an IT Director at the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) and served as Vice President for Information Technology at Thomas Nelson Community College, one of the VCCS member institutions. 

Student Success is Everyone’s Responsibility

hoover-tom-01_300By Thomas Hoover, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Technology can be thought of as the only solution when it comes to improving graduation rates. There are some incredible ways that technology can help and dramatically improve a university campus environment, especially by enhancing the student learning experience. However, graduation is everyone’s responsibility across the entire campus.

The State of Tennessee has been at the forefront of the movement to improve student graduation rates. The state-approved Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010 has a profound impact on the way higher education is funded and conducted. Part of the act moved funding to a competitive model based on graduation rates among TN state colleges and universities. This is different from the previous funding model based on high student enrollment.

But that isn’t to say technology isn’t instrumental in success. With the use of data analytics, universities now have the ability to be proactive when ensuring students stay on track, and can examine student engagement on campus. For example, technology makes it possible to monitor how often a student logs into the university’s LMS—analysis has shown there is a correlation between log-ins and students’ grades. Technology also gives us the ability to use predictive forecasting and predict how a student will do in a class, allowing advisement of students in selecting majors and courses that they will succeed in.

But, thinking back to my undergrad and graduate school experiences, the times that my faculty reached out personally are what made a difference. IT involvement can be a catalyst, but interaction must happen at each level. This may start with the faculty members (and professors are instrumental), but it should include every person that interacts with students.

Offering different types of courses is also instrumental; for example, hybrid courses could play a key role in giving students choices in the type of class and style that works for them.

It is the job of the campus community to provide the framework for students with the best learning and community environment. This is something that needs to be at the forefront of the minds of every staff and faculty member. Technology is the backbone of the university, but student success is everyone’s responsibility.

Thomas Hoover is Associate Vice Chancellor and Chief Information Officer at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

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