How Universities Are Using Big Data

“You could say it was bold. You could say it was crazy; maybe even arrogant. But I decided that if Georgia State was going to do something really big, this was the goal whose achievement would allow us to change the world.” declared Mark Becker, president of Georgia State University, reflecting on his decision to rewrite an objective in the university’s mission statement. The objective was to “become a national model for undergraduate education by demonstrating that students from all backgrounds can achieve academic and career success at high rates”. 

Georgia State’s student body is not the typical. More than half of the students come from low-income backgrounds. But within three years, Georgia State’s black, Hispanic, low-income and first-generation students were graduating at the same rate as the student body overall. Becker achieved this major milestone thanks to the power of data analytics. Holly Else writes for Times Higher Education.

Else wrote that the US has long had a retention issue in higher education, thanks mostly to high costs and low levels of student preparedness. But for non-white students, first-generation students and those from low-income backgrounds, the statistics are even worse. 

Georgia State is one of eleven institutions pioneering the use of big data to boost student success rates as part of the University Innovation Alliance, a coalition of US public research universities formed in 2014 to address the need for more college-educated citizens in the US workforce.

Arizona State University, another institution that forms part of the alliance, started using big data in the hope of targeting one of the biggest barriers to student success: mathematics. To overcome this issue, the university eliminated the standard lectures on its general-level maths course and replaced them with a “mathematics emporium”, a software that assesses students ability against the course learning objectives and places them at an appropriate starting point. The same approach has also been applied to other first-year courses such as algebra, biology, chemistry, history and psychology. 

Holly Else presents other examples of institutions that are also using big data to improve student success and explores the ethical issues that arises with the exploitation of student data. Read the full article to know more about the applications of big data in Higher Education institutions.