Using Big Data in Higher Education
You’ve probably heard about big data getting used in industries ranging from health care to marketing. Big data platforms enable analyzing vast quantities of data and extracting trends or patterns from it. Since big data tools deal with the information much faster than humans could, they’re ideal for deriving insights out of gigantic databases.
Many higher education institutions realize that big data in education could help them discover insights about students, faculty and other things that they may otherwise overlook. Here are some examples:
Tapping Into Big Data for Recruitment Success
The earliest stages of a person’s college journey can be incredibly stressful. They often get bombarded with glossy catalogs and brochures, plus emails that invite them to set up university tours. But, the universities distributing those materials and sending those communications must ensure they don’t waste efforts. That’s why universities frequently retool their recruitment efforts with big data.
Missouri’s St. Louis University took that approach. Previously, recruiters purchased names of potential students that matched many of the characteristics of people in the most recent freshman class from places like the College Board. However, the institution realized the technique was no longer sustainable.
Instead, St. Louis University relied on big data to determine the traits shared by the most satisfied recent graduates. Representatives then tailored their methods to focus on people that were the most similar to those people who loved their college experiences at that high-learning institution. Going about the task that way should increase the likelihood that incoming students feel happier about the higher education option they chose.
Big data also aids with a more specific kind of recruitment when colleges look for the next star athletes of their sports teams. A group of graduates from Northwestern University built such a big data platform. It takes three factors into account: A student’s demographic details, how many interactions they’ve had with a given school, and the engagement with other institutions.
Together, the results can help college recruiters narrow the options and determine which athletes would fit best at a particular school. College athletics can become a big business, especially if university teams compete in events that people watch around the nation. Succeeding with this kind of recruitment can have a direct impact on a college’s reputation.
Depending on Data to Increase Graduation Rates
Entities in the higher education sector are under constant pressure to keep their graduation rates high. If they’re below average, representatives need to see what’s causing students to drop out before earning their degrees or take longer than expected to graduate. A campus at the University of North Carolina applied big data to find out which factors kept students from graduating in four years.
School representatives found most learners in the data set were commonly only a couple of courses away from being able to graduate. When the university chose to waive tuition for the summer before senior year, graduation rates went up. Then, at Georgia State University, the institution looked at a decade’s worth of data and studied 2.5 million grades to come up with a list of 10 things that reduced students’ chances of graduating.
Student advisors then got alerts about 700 factors about a student’s behavior or performance that may warrant intervention. In total, students reportedly saved $12 million with this high-tech system because it allows them to graduate a half-semester sooner than usual.
Universities Have a Responsibility to Keep Data Safe
As higher education organizations use larger quantities of data for the purposes above and others, the risk of a data breach rises. Statistics from an EDUCAUSE study showed 79% of universities cited data breaches as their top concerns. Hospitals and retailers often come to mind as popular targets for hackers, and indeed, they are.
However, the higher education sector also gets hacked. Consider the tremendous amounts of personal details colleges keep on file, especially in the departments that handle payments for tuition or donations from alumni and community members.
Performing a security risk assessment is an excellent first step to take. It can illuminate an entity’s weak points, as well as show what it’s doing well. Implementing mandatory training about how to handle data is crucial too. Although such education starts with staff members, it should also extend to students. The content can help them understand what habits they have that may put data under threat.
Finally, higher education organizations should create a crisis response plan that details what to do if a data breach happens. Having a framework will help them act decisively.
Rewards Come With Risk Management Needs
The examples here show how and why so many schools benefit from using big data. However, they can only make the most of those advantages by also handling data responsibly to safeguard it and prioritize privacy.