Using analytics to improve student success
- Information can be provided directly to students to help them
- Students find the information useful—and will change behaviors
- Determine which outcomes or metrics are of interest
Brent Drake, chief data officer at Purdue University, spends his days using analytics to make students more successful. “One of the major focus areas our office points to is student success. Specifically, we’re looking at students’ academic success, so their grade-point average (GPA), their progression toward their degree, their retention, and ultimately their graduation are the key metrics we look at. We’ve worked on many projects over the past three years that include factors that affect that success—ways we can help move the needle on those metrics so that we can ultimately help more students be successful at the university.”
Currently, Drake says the university is using data to “provide a behavioral nudge for students toward more proactive behaviors. We’re pulling in a large array of data areas: our traditional academic record files, our learning management system, our ID card transactions, and our network log activity at the university.” Drake says, “We can look at malleable behaviors predictive of success on campus, then send messages to the students about them.”
Purdue also provides information directly to students to help them perform better. Drake explains, “Factors that can help with their success in class, like providing GPA comparisons to students who have been successful in their majors in the past; whether they’re attending class; whether they have a high Internet usage rate while they’re in class, which would imply that they’re not paying attention to the lectures; their tardiness to class; whether they’re logging in to the learning management system proportionately to their class requirements; and whether they’re using the discussion board topics in the class.”
“We provide information about the historical relationship between those behaviors and their ultimate success on campus,” Drake says. “Then, when they log in, they see their individual data points in relation to other students in their course or in their major or across the university.” He believes these programs may play a part in Purdue’s recent retention rate records for one and two years and the record four- and six-year graduation rates the university is setting.
Students find the analytics useful. Drake points out, “Every time we release a new module, we send a follow-up survey to the students. Overwhelmingly, the response is positive. When we ask them, ‘Do you want us to continue to use your data in this manner if it helps you be more successful in your GPA,’ around 90 percent of the students respond yes.”
An analytics project of this size might be more than some institutions are prepared for, says Drake, but he encourages, “Every institution can look at its cutoffs, where it has breaks of students who struggle based on GPA at the end of the semester—even if they’re not in academic probation status—and reach out to those students in an email campaign or have their advisors follow up with them. That is an easy pull for any institution.
Registration behavior is also an easy pull for just about any institution out there. Colleges and universities can do those things without a heavy investment of time and resources, and it will have an impact on their student body.”
Learning from the programs that Purdue has instituted, Drake advises, “At the beginning of the process, you’ve got to be clear about which outcomes or metrics are of interest and on which you want to exert influence. Then, everything can flow from that in terms of looking at the resources, behavior, and technologies that can influence that goal. You’ve got to get that first step done."
BRENT DRAKE, Chief Data Officer, Purdue University
Brent M. Drake currently serves as the chief data officer overseeing the Office of Institutional Research, Assessment, and Effectiveness at Purdue University, where he focuses on data related to student learning and attainment, overall institutional effectiveness, institutional reporting, faculty activity, and data analytics. He presents and publishes on many topics in higher education, including motivational models related to student success, retention enhancing programs, business intelligence, data analytics, and student success efforts.
And for more insights and resources about becoming an analytics-driven campus, check out our analytics-driven campus resource page.