Colleges have always collected reams of data about students. The admissions office knows where students come from, their high school grades, and their standardized test scores. The financial-aid office knows how students are paying for school and how much money their parents make. The registrar's office knows what courses students are taking and what grades they're earning.
Now a growing number of institutions are analyzing all that data to address the problem of lagging graduation rates for low-income and nonwhite students by trying to identify those students most at risk of dropping out. Some schools are even using algorithms that can predict whether a student will pass a certain course, in the same way that Netflix uses algorithms to predict what movies customers will want to watch.
Data analytics promise to give institutions better information about their own programs and help advisers reach struggling students. But some tools also have the potential to cross ethical and privacy lines. This month, Next America will take a closer look at the benefits and costs of data collection and analysis on college campuses.
Colleges are under intense pressure to raise degree-completion rates. Thirty states now fund public colleges and universities—at least partly—based on criteria such as the number of students who graduate and the number of degrees awarded, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.