Predictive software plots path to college degrees

Four higher education institutions in Tennessee saw marked improvements in grades, retention, and in closing attainment gap after participating in a trial of predictive analytics software.

Colleges have poured resources into bolstering predictive analytics.

Two universities and two community colleges used Desire2Learn’s Degree Compass predictive analytics technology between August 2012 and May 2013.

According to data released on Dec. 5 by Desire2Learn, students who selected courses based on Degree Compass recommendations had a much higher success rate than students who selected courses on their own.

At one university the average number of credit hours passed by students who used the predictive analytics technology for 12 credit hours of courses was 10.66 credit hours. The success rate was an average of just two credit hours passed for students who didn’t use Degree Compass at all.

The results were similar at the other institutions that were part of the trial.

“I am very excited about the latest data, that shows more and more clearly how students of all abilities succeed when they follow the recommendations from Degree Compass,” said Tristan Denley, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at Tennessee Board of Regents, in an announcement of the results.

Denley developed Degree Compass at Austin Peay University in 2011 with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The software uses an algorithm based on each student’s transcript, combined with data from thousands of other students, to generate individualized course suggestions that are ranked on a five-star scale.

Think Amazon and Netflix recommendations but for college courses instead of movies or books.

Degree Compass in January was acquired by Desire2Learn.

Though the data released by the company doesn’t name the universities, Degree Compass was being trialed earlier this year at Nashville State Community College, Volunteer State Community College, the University of Memphis, and Austin Peay.

“We can absolutely feel the impact on our campus,” Denley said in May. “It’s a real victory to see that providing these extra layers of information has helped students. … It was a logical step for us to inform choices within a major and to show students which majors to select, which majors they’d thrive in.”

The analysis released by Desire2learn on Thursday suggests that can help shrink the attainment gap, the disparity between the educational performances of white, well-off students and minority or low-income students.

Degree Compass recommendations helped the four institutions begin to “close” this gap between groups of students in of differing socioeconomic status, race, gender and income, the Desire2Learn said.

“The data from the trials shows that when students from these groups use Degree Compass for course selection, the achievement gap is closed to a mere six percent,” said the company.

Follow Jake New on Twitter at @eCN_Jake.

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