Data Analytics

Southern Connecticut State U: Experiences on Campus Are Key Predictor of Academic Success

A 10-year data analysis at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) revealed that campus experiences are more important than student demographics when it comes to retention and student success. The institution worked with IBM's Watson Analytics to perform the study and develop predictive models to identify students at risk of withdrawal from school.

Typical approaches rely on data such as students' ethnicity, income, SAT scores, etc., but SCSU came up with a different model: "Students' experiences on campus accurately predicted whether they would stay at the university, graduate from the university, transfer to a private or another public university, transfer to a community college, or withdraw from higher education," a news release explained. "While financial and personal reasons play a role in early withdrawal from school, many students also transfer to other schools, take online courses at other universities, enroll in summer sessions at other schools, or simply take their sophomore year off completely."

IBM's Watson Analytics is a cloud-based data analysis and visualization service designed to help discover patterns and meaning in data. "With guided data discovery, automated predictive analytics and cognitive capabilities, such as the ability to ask questions in natural language, people can interact with data conversationally to unearth insights quickly and in formats they can easily understand," according to the company.

"When we began integrating Watson Analytics into our cohort studies, new insights around our data surfaced that we hadn't even considered," said Michael Ben-Avie, director of the Office of Assessment and Planning at SCSU, in a statement. "So we were able to start making decisions that were informed by data, rather than anecdotes. The shift from data-laden reports to infographics with visualizations from Watson Analytics considerably helped in this regard."

SCSU is using Watson Analytics to develop a variety of new services and programs to improve student outcomes. For example, the university has created an Academic Success Center that handles tutoring services, study-skill enrichment programs, academic coaching and learning assistance. "Since [the center opened] in 2015, the number of visits to tutors has jumped from 500 to 3,000," the news release reported. The university also opened a new office of Financial Literacy and Advising.

In addition, SCSU has created an internship program that gives students in the School of Business and the Computer Science Department access to Watson Analytics tools to prepare them for possible careers in data science. The students work with local businesses to help organize, analyze and interpret data for better decision-making. "Interns earn academic credits, gain experience in using cognitive analytics in a real-world workplace, and receive a badge from IBM that helps them when searching for a job or applying to graduate school," the release said. The program also offers a course in computer science, marketing and statistics.

For more information on Watson Analytics, visit the IBM site.

About the Author

About the author: Rhea Kelly is executive editor for Campus Technology. She can be reached at rkelly@1105media.com.

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