School of Big Data: How Analytics Benefits Higher Education

Higher education institutions are using big data analytics to better recruit and support students through graduation.

For the past few years, big data has been making waves across nearly every industry. However, nowhere is this more true than the educational sector. Higher education institutions are typically some of the first adopters of new technology, and colleges and universities across the country have been shaping their educational, recruitment and retention programs thanks to insights gleaned from big data analytics.

What's more, with more employment opportunities for data scientists and analysts than ever before, many schools are offering new courses to ensure students are ready for their future careers.

Big data analytics has much to offer when it comes to higher education. Let's take a look at a few ways colleges, universities and other schools can leverage these processes to their full advantage.

Pulling from an array of internal sources

While nearly every organization in any industry likely has a wealth of informational assets at its disposal from which to mine data, this is particularly true for educational institutions. Schools obtain a treasure trove of information from current and prospective students — and this is only a single big data source. Educational organizations are also turning to older systems to gather details and analyze them for valuable insights, opening up new possibilities.

"Colleges and universities, inundated with data from legacy systems and incentivized by renewed accountability pressures, have begun to link disparate information from across the campus," Bridget Burns, University Innovation Alliance's executive director, wrote for Forbes. "Historically limited to transactional data from registrars and student information systems, the application of data-driven decision-making has begun to permeate all aspects of campus life and operations — as enterprising leaders harness predictive analytics to tackle bottleneck courses, power advising initiatives and share best practices with their peers."

In this way, schools aren't just leveraging all of their available resources. Administrators are also seeking out innovative ways to apply analytics findings to processes all across the institution.

Setting sights on social media

Schools are looking beyond their own big data for further insights as well. Leveraging social media information has now become a more common trend. In this way, schools' recruitment teams and administrators can learn as much about a particular student or group of pupils as possible.

A recent Kaplan Test Prep survey found that 40 percent of admissions officers currently engage social media resources to get additional information about applicants. This process is also becoming more popular with scholarship funds as organizations seek to award monies to the most promising student candidates.

Geographical targeting: Hitting students where they live

Recruitment efforts have been especially impacted by big data, where analytics can help reveal where schools should focus their efforts and what kind of return on investment they can expect.

Similar to the retail industry, higher education institutions can reduce their marketing spending by creating more targeted campaigns that appeal to audiences in a specific area. For example, if big data insights show that students in certain cities not only apply regularly to a college, but are most often accepted, the organization can adjust its marketing efforts accordingly.

"If a university admissions office has a firm understanding of which geographical locations include the most applicants who enroll, it can cut marketing costs and produce enhanced results,"  Lauren Willison, Florida Polytechnic University director of admissions wrote in a guest post for IBM. "Rather than investing in unfocused campaigns that target a wide audience, money can be invested in specific markets that are more likely to boost the university's yield rate."

Post-application: Selecting students to accept

Big data analytics doesn't end after a student has submitted their application. Fast Company contributor Neal Ungerleider reported that more institutions are also leveraging big data to help make decisions about which students will be accepted. Analysis of certain datasets can show which candidates are the most likely to succeed at the college or university, and which might be more prone to drop out or fail.

This type of predictive analytics is currently being used by Wichita State University, where it's helping administrators make better informed decisions. Research shows that the school's recruitment approach results in 96 percent accuracy in pinpointing which applicants are "high-yield" or will likely do well at the institution.

Identifying educational troubles

Analytics can also be used by schools to pinpoint which pupils might be struggling in their educational pursuits. One of the best ways this strategy has been applied is to identify troubles earlier in a student's academic career. For instance, if a student is underperforming in prerequisite classes, advisors can help guide them before they fall behind, fail a course or drop out of school.

"Instead of falling through the cracks, students receive an early intervention with solutions such as rearranging course loads or exploring other paths to a degree," Willison pointed out.

From big data to big dollars

With so many industries buzzing about the advantages that big data analytics can offer, more individuals are seeking to pursue careers in this field. As a result, institutions are putting more big data, data science and analytics courses and programs into place. TechRepublic recently published a list of the top 20 schools offering such education, with Carnegie Mellon, Stanford and Santa Clara University topping the list.

Requirements and considerations: An expert partner needed

Big data analytics can offer nearly endless opportunities to improve campus processes and enhance education. However, there are a few challenges and requirements that administrators should be aware of, not the least of which is data security.

Institutions must have a secure environment in which to gather and work with their data, particularly if information includes students' sensitive personal details. What's more, with so many likely disparate data sources, it's essential to consider the work involved in integrating and organizing these datasets.

Thankfully, expert partners like Data Realty and Aunalytics can help. Data Realty and Aunalytics are leaders in the big data analytics field, and are in a unique position to address and support the needs of the education sector. To find out more about how Data Realty and Aunalytics can help your school make the most of its big data, contact us today.