Ohio Colleges Plan to Identify Students at Risk of Dropping Out with Data Analytics Tools

Data dashboards will show professors and advisers how students are doing in the hopes of keeping them on track to graduate.

by Lance Lambert, Dayton Daily News, Ohio / August 4, 2015 0
Ohio universities are considering data dashboards to track student progress toward graduation. Chandimal Pathirage via Flickr CC by 2.0

(TNS) — Students drop out of college for a lot of reasons, from broken-down vehicles and money struggles to a bad case of homesickness. To improve retention rates, some local colleges are hoping to harness the power of big data.

That's what Sinclair Community College and Wright State University hope to achieve with dashboards that will alert professors when students start showing signs of being "at-risk."

Sinclair's dashboard, which launches next month, will work like a heat map, showing which students are doing well, or if they are in the middle of the pack or on the brink. The college's system gives ratings based on data collected about the student, including whether they are using their garage pass, attending advising appointments, using campus tutors, activity on their online class profile and class performance.

Once a student starts to show signs of losing engagement, Sinclair's system will suggest to the professor how they could intervene.

Both institutions are part of a national trend to use data analytics to increase graduation and retention rates — something experts say is critical given that Ohio is now using those metrics to decide nearly 100 percent of state appropriations.

Several local universities, including Miami University and the University of Dayton, also are increasing the use of data analytics. Miami is working on something similar to Sinclair and WSU, and plans to launch a prototype in the fall.

"Sinclair is a cutting-edge community college," said William Moses, managing director of education programs at Michigan-based Kresge Foundation, which provides higher education institutions grants to improve data analytics. "Colleges are trying to use data analytics to see why students are failing and what's creating barriers."

Moses said this is a trend in higher education, especially as state funding remains stagnant, and colleges try to find the most efficient ways to use limited funds to boost graduation rates.

Arizona State University is among the pioneers of data-analytics dashboards. Its seven-year-old system flags students that may be falling behind. Moses says the system helped the university increase its graduation rate.

Unlike Sinclair, which can measure attendance through the use of students' parking passes, WSU will know if students are coming to class by having them swipe in. In July, WSU opened its $17 million Student Success Center, which will house "gateway freshman classes."

"To measure engagement, the new Student Success Center is outfitted with swipe stations to track attendance," said Tim Littell, assistant dean of programming at WSU. However, the swipe stations will not be "fool-proof."

Littell says the university wants to measure freshman attendance, since historically these students have higher dropout rates compared to older students. That data, along with several other measurements, will be incorporated in a dashboard similar to Sinclair's, which WSU plans to launch in the fall of 2016.

Both institutions hope to provide a dashboard for students that will notify them of their progress. For example, WSU plans to tell students if they enrolled in a "milestone course" — a course that often prevents students in their degree program from graduating.

Apart from professors and students, advisors at Sinclair will also have access to the dashboard.

"This system will give advisors real-time data on students, including grades and attendance. In the past, they just had final grades," said Laura Mercer, director of research, analytics and reporting at Sinclair.

Mercer said the data will improve the advising process, as students will be given more personalized advice. 

©2015 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.