The ‘Murky Middle’

Career College Central Summary:

  • Colleges and universities trying to improve retention and graduation rates may be directing academic support services to the wrong students, emerging research suggests.
  • Researchers at the Education Advisory Board, a Washington-based company, think predictive analytics can inform the student-success strategies institutions employ.
  • The company is collecting student data from roughly 110 four-year colleges and universities as part of its Student Success Collaborative.
  • So far, about 60 institutions have provided 10 years’ worth of transcripts as well as demographic details such as students’ home towns, said Ed Venit, the lead researcher on the company’s student-success project. The participating institutions are public and private, of varying sizes and selectivity rates.
  • As Venit and others look at the data, they’ve noticed some patterns that challenge the common understanding of when and why college students drop out.
  • Colleges lose the biggest share of students in their first year, so institutions direct most of their student-success resources to freshmen, Venit said. (Such resources include tutoring, mentoring programs or other interventions.)
  • “That’s where everyone’s devoting a lot of attention,” Venit said. “But we’re not moving the dial.”
  • Colleges fixate too much on freshmen, he said. Many students complete their first year but leave without a degree.
  • Forty-five percent of total dropouts nationwide finish a year of college and with a grade-point average between 2.0 and 3.0, the company's research has found. “We have a mystery here,” Venit said.
  • “Because students between a 2.0 and 3.0 are dropping out. But they’re not dropping out after their first year.”

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