12 Jun

Can Data-Mining Prevent College Dropouts?

With only 75% of freshmen graduating on-time (and a significant proportion dropping out), many colleges are turning to technology to help them break the cycle of poor retention and concerning graduation rates. Each school has its own methods, but many are using software that scores students according to their data versus statistical findings.


Schools are monitoring students’ activities to determine who is at risk to drop out-and then doing something about it.

The Raw Data

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, schools from Purdue to the University of Alabama are digging through student data to find out which students may need extra care. They monitor items from SAT scores to course website usage, and one school even keeps tabs on students’ attendance at school cafeterias. All these sources have been deemed contributors to dropout potential.

Who’s at Risk?

Because each school’s scoring process is different, there is no one standardized list of which students are at risk to drop out. However, there are a few overarching tendencies among college dropouts.

  • Lack of transition. Bridging the gap between high school and college is tough. Students who can’t get in the swing of things-making friends, dealing with classes, learning college-level study skills, etc.-often feel overwhelmed or out of place and choose instead to drop out.
  • Low motivation. Even with schools offering help, some students simply don’t feel the drive to work toward a degree. Maybe they don’t complete homework, won’t show up to class, or dismiss studying for midterms and finals. Many times this is a sign that the student is not pursuing a major or field that he/she is passionate about.
  • Difficulty finding help. In larger colleges and universities, some students may feel lost in the crowd. Whether they’re struggling to find help with coursework, or having difficulty choosing (or getting into) the courses they need, many students are daunted by the task of working through the collegiate bureaucracy.
  • Lack of discipline.

Schools Fight Back

Each college has devised methods of countering the dropout rates-most of them are turning to a little extra TLC for students. Here’s a sampling of what the Chronicle reports schools are doing to give “at risk” students a boost:

  • Purdue‘s course websites feature a traffic signal with red, yellow, and green lights signifying the student’s “at risk” status. They also offer students extra help outside of class.
  • Slippery Rock University has res hall staff members check up on students with few visits to campus cafeterias to make sure they’re getting accustomed to the college lifestyle.
  • The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa has made it mandatory for first-year students to live on-campus.

All the best,
Deborah Fox

photo: The Lineup by KLatham

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