The growing industry of Higher Education Big Data

Higher education isn't seen as data-driven -- but is it time that changed to try and combat drop-out rates?
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

An Austin-based startup, Civitas Learning, has launched with $4.1 million in funding from Austin Ventures, First Round Capital and Floodgate to develop a digital platform for educational decision-making -- through the concept of Big Data.


As colleges and universities stretch their resources to try and accommodate the diverse and ever-increasing pool of students, it can be difficult for them to maximize the potential of the information they possess to work out what's working and what's not.

From the academic schedule to coursework, funding, scholarships, testing and teaching styles, higher education could benefit through Big Data by collating and analyzing this data -- and potentially this could help stem rising drop-out numbers across the United States.

The drop-out rate in the U.S. is abysmal. Once this happens, not only is the chance of continuing education stalled, but students are saddled with debt, high rates of unemployment and less opportunity. If anything can help combat this and detect problems before it's too late, then surely it's worth a shot?

That's where Civitas Learning comes in. Working with four-year universities, community colleges and other higher education institutions, the company wants to develop a platform where analyzing demographics, behavioural patterns and academic data concerning the student population is possible.

The idea is this: by working with past and present data, models can be built based on any patterns that crop up, and so perhaps it will be possible to predict which students might be at 'high risk' of dropping out -- and so more assistance can be offered before the situation reaches a desperate point.

Not only this, but these models could be used to advise students on degree course selection, classroom management and schedules may be improved, and studies on student culture could be explored.

Charles Thornburgh, Civitas' founder and CEO said:

"Right now, academic decisions are made largely on anecdotes and serendipity.

A minor decision like which class to take can have a major bearing on a student's overall academic success. We can identify classes that have been successful for similar students in the past, and we can warn them about taking class combinations that have been toxic in the past."

Real-time data that these kinds of platforms can offer may become useful tools for higher education practitioners. It's already used to recommend products and services, links of interest and transforming our consumer behaviour, so why not tap into the technology and transform how we view education?

Civitas is also looking at the possibilities of providing educators with smart learning tools, in order to create their own learning-based applications for mobile devices.


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