The Data-Driven College: Tipping The Scales In Favor Of Degree Completion

After surviving the arduous application process, students face new challenges as they devise strategies to overcome college hurdles and complete their degrees. The decisions they make will affect their success rate and their future job outlook upon graduating. The gravity of these complex decisions has forced education reformers to take a closer look at how they can tip the scales in favor of higher completion rates—and many believe data-driven endeavors are the answer.

According to those in favor of data-driven education reform, “Knowledge is power.” And understanding the elements that contribute to a college student’s success should be enveloped in scientific data, not intuition and advanced-level guesswork. Proponents believe education is best framed by evidence, not conjecture.
A Different Approach
According to founder of Civitas Learning, Charles Thornburgh, “Right now, academic decisions are made largely on anecdotes and serendipity.” In other words, students are motivated more by small decsions on which classes to take that don’t neccesarily fit the bill in terms of their natural aptitude. Data mining can give greater insight in regards to which programs a student will accel in based on their inherent strengths.
Thornburgh’s approach gathers pertinent data, but instead of arming institutions with how to use the information, the data is revealed directly to the students. This approach helps students to think clearly and apply more “scientific” factors into the decision-making process, rather than relying on emotional triggers or leaving the decisions up to chance.
Progress and Outcome
Regardless of the approach, proponents of data-driven reform look for ways to identify the challenges and problems students face in college. The emphasis is on progress and outcome and with strong data, they can use past outcomes to help institutions empower new students and their teachers while successfully allocating funds where needed. By examining the challenges of students who never completed college, policymakers can implement sound programs to better prepare current college students for the journey ahead.
The Commission on Access, Admissions and Success in Higher Education has made it their mission to help college students complete their degrees. With the College Completion Agenda, they “study the educational pipeline” to prepare students for success in the 21st century. Their goal is to see 55 percent of Americans earn a postsecondary degree by 2025.
The organization recommends a data driven approach in order to improve retention by placing students where they will naturally thrive. The idea behind this scientific process has led many to believe that the introduction of more compelling and data driven placement research will naturally combat student attrition.
The organization believes that persistence indicators such as retention can be used to understand a student’s progress as well as an institution’s challenge to promote college completion. While the organization deems data will drive retention upward, it discusses the disadvantage of using metrics as accountability measures since data is measured as an average across institutions nation-wide, and larger institutions will sway the impact of the results. Regardless, the organization feels colleges should survey college “dropouts” and use this data to develop policies that result in greater future outcomes for both students and their schools.
Though the testing is not flawless and opponents are numerous, proponents are certain that the accumulation of sound data will continue to better the institutions of America and the students who call them home.

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The push towards data-driven education reform strengthens as educators continue to develop methods to prepare new and existing college students on how to succeed. Articel courtesy of Southern New Hampshire University’s Online College Degree Program