Will Your Next College Advisor be a Data Service?

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College students traditionally select a major a little like they might pick a spouse. They might spend time exploring, asking themselves deep questions, looking for a match that’s just for them. But in an era of big data, when even the shade of blue on a company website isn’t left to chance, students’ biggest decisions will soon be informed by a strong dose of science and statistics. One harbinger: a startup launched yesterday (May 22) that promises to turn universities’ records on its past students into recommendations for current and future scholars’ majors and course loads.

Civitas Learning, a predictive analytics company based in Austin, Texas, mines university records for trends. Schools already keep track of their students’ demographic data, high school and college grades, test scores and major choices, as well as student performance and attrition rates for every class. In the future, as more professors have their students go online to do homework and take quizzes, colleges will have even more data about how students fare.

The company says its algorithms can identify which students are at risk of dropping out, what courses and majors have the most dropouts, and which students benefit most from tutoring or other university programs. The statistical work draws from a million student records and more than 7 million course records, according to the company’s website.

The company then turns its data analysis into apps for faculty and students.

Civitas Learning says it has more than a dozen clients – and data sources – including Austin Community College and the University of Maryland University College.

Student apps suggest majors and courses for students, based on their personal data. The apps alert students if they’ve chosen a combination of classes that other students struggled with in the past (perhaps others who took Engineering 124 and Math 150 at the same time saw their GPAs drop that semester) and suggest a more statistically successful schedule. The student side of Civitas Learning apps can even suggest how to split up studying time and what resources to use, based on previous students’ data.

Meanwhile, faculty apps tell professors who’s at risk for failing and suggest interventions, based on what interventions worked for similar students in the past.

Civitas Learning analyses will help colleges see if online learning tools, mentoring and tutoring programs and other interventions help students finish classes and graduate, Charles Thornburgh Civitas Learning’s CEO, said in a statement.

According to Civitas Learning’s “About” page, the company aims to change the education sector with the same technologies – including big data, predictive programs and recommendation engines – that transformed commercial industries, such as movie rentals.