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IBM Tackles Education Analytics with SaaS Suite

IBM is expanding its presence in education cloud computing with the release of a new service named Decision Management for Education, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) system that uses data maintained within the institution to guide decisions using predictive analytical technologies from IBM SPSS. The company explained it envisions its use in helping administrators and instructors identify students with the greatest propensity to succeed in recruiting efforts, those most likely to fail for retention efforts, or donors most likely to support a given initiative.

The set of applications uses pre-defined, Web-based modeling to answer common questions by pulling insights from available data about students, faculty, and donors. The system combines that data with predictive analytics, allowing the user to create "what-if" scenarios to determine the best course of action.

The suite includes a number of IBM SPSS Decision Management applications:

  • Enrollment Management, to focus recruitment efforts on those people most likely to accept enrollment and succeed at the institution;
  • Student Retention, to identify the key factors that lead to student success and provide data-backed recommendations for intervention;
  • Financial Aid Management, to identify potentially fraudulent applications and more quickly identify low-risk applications that qualify for fast-track approval;
  • Institutional Advancement, to predict which alumni are most likely to donate, how much they will donate, and when they're most likely to give; and
  • Campus Security, to help security departments predict where and when dangerous or criminal activities are most likely to occur.

These same applications can be run on premises; but with the SaaS edition, IBM will also provide software management and technical infrastructure in a monthly or quarterly subscription.

One institution of higher education, American Public University System (APUS) in Charles Town, WV, has used similar tools now contained in Decision Management for Education to address student retention issues. According to an IBM statement, the institution can now predict with 80 percent certainty whether a student is going to drop out.

APUS deployed IBM SPSS Modeler to identify the factors crucial to student retention and provided administrators with online dashboards to identify at-risk students and build intervention strategies, including better course designs, to keep students on track to graduation. APUS has 80,000 students taking online courses through two schools, American Public University and American Military University.

Decision Management for Education is part a newly branded "IBM SmartCloud for Education" offering, which also includes IBM's Virtual Computing Lab and the IBM Cloud Academy. The lab accelerates set up of a cloud computing environment as an on-campus private cloud or a 'hybrid' cloud connected to the IBM SmartCloud, the company's cloud platform. The academy is a membership organization whose members share best practices, participate in pilot programs, and contribute to and take from a repository of cloud computing curriculum, tools, and resources.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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