IBM Watson Analytics to improve the student retention rates at SCSU
Friday, July 21, 2017
IBM Watson wants to help SCSU's retention rate as college student retention rates trend downward.
Low student retention rates continue to challenge many colleges and universities across the U.S. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported this summer that for all students who started college in the U.S. in the fall of 2015, only 61.1 percent returned to their original school for the fall semester of 2016.
Studies show that college freshman who return and remain with their original college for their sophomore years tend to graduate on time, while those who transfer do not. That’s mainly due to things like course equivalence, a process that colleges use to determine whether to accept course credits from other institutions. When a course is not accepted, students typically have to make it up at the new school, which can lead to delayed graduation.
IBM has announced how one university, Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU), began tackling the challenge with IBM Watson Analytics Professional. After applying millions of student data points to the data analysis and visualization service that runs on IBM Cloud, SCSU administrators were presented with new insights quickly and easily.
A key finding, in fact, lead directly to the creation of an entirely new Academic Success Center on campus to help kids progress through some of the more challenging aspects of being a college freshman. The project was so successful, the school integrated Watson Analytics into an innovative new internship program that puts the service into the hands of students from the SCSU's School of Business and Computer Science Department who are interested in possible careers in data science.
The university used IBM’s Watson Analytics Professional to unearth insights from millions of student data points to help improve student retention rates and keep them on a path to graduation. It also adopted the solution as the core of an innovative new internship program designed to enhance the University’s relationships with local businesses while helping prepare the students for possible careers in data science.
“When we began integrating Watson Analytics into our cohort studies, new insights around our data surfaced that we hadn’t even considered,” said Dr. Michael Ben-Avie, Director of the Office of Assessment and Planning at SCSU. “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 took the insights and began crafting programs based on the data. One of the most successful initiatives that emerged, so far, has been SCSU’s Academic Success Center, which coordinates tutorial services, provides study-skill enrichment programs, and offers academic coaching and structured learning assistance. Since opening in 2015, the number of visits to tutors has jumped from 500 to 3,000.
Innovative Internship Program
SCSU also built an innovative new internship program around Watson Analytics that puts the solution in the hands of students from the University’s School of Business and Computer Science Department who are interested in possible careers in data science.
The program kicked off in the spring of 2017 and included four pairs of interns who brought Watson Analytics with them to local businesses, including the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce and the Regional Water Authority of South Central Connecticut. With the program, the students worked to help the businesses improve their performance by mining their existing data volumes for insights that would lead to data-driven decisions.
In addition, and in partnership with the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, the program offers a course that combines computer science, marketing, and statistics with an internship. With these tools in hand, students apply Watson Analytics and their own creativity to address challenging questions from local businesses.
Headed by Dr. Ben-Avie, the program focuses on priority projects. “We’re able to suggest projects, or if a business already has one in mind, the interns can start working with them right away,” said Dr. Ben-Avie. “They go in and help from the start with organizing files, constructing comprehensive spreadsheets, pulling together the raw data.”
The interns organize, analyze, and interpret that data using Watson Analytics. At the conclusion of their internship, they present their findings and solutions to the local businesses.
The internship program is mutually beneficial. 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 businesses not only receive the work and dedication of the interns, but also the faculty network supporting them.
“SCSU is a great example of a university using analytical innovation in innovative ways,” said Marc Altshuller, General Manager, Watson Analytics, IBM. “The team there, already long-invested in analytical research, had the foresight to tap into Watson Analytics to build upon its statistical results even further, and to great effect.”
Data analyses also demonstrated that an important predictor of retention is students’ financial literacy. The results of analyses informed the decision to set up a new office of Financial Literacy and Advising. In March 2017, SCSU was notified that it ranked among the top 50 Financial Literacy Programs in the country. In the letter of congratulation, LendEDU wrote, “Financial literacy among college students is as important as ever, and your school has become a leader in the field.”
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