Relentless Predictive Data Tracking Key to Success

[Predictive data analytics is a tool that more K-20 institutions need to use. The key is continuous feedback. We can’t wait until an end-of-year or end of report period. It’s vital to keep providing feedback to advisers and learners. Discover in this Education Dive article how Middle Tennessee State University has established a successful program combining technology with retrained personnel.]

By | June 15, 2016


Middle Tennessee State University’s vice provost for student success brings an uncommon perspective to his job, but it is one that is increasingly recognized as having value. Rick Sluder joined the administrative team at MTSU after four years in enrollment management, where it was his job to track application and matriculation data obsessively. The first thing he did when he got to Middle Tennessee State was to set up a data system that would give the university the power to track performance and do so on a weekly basis.

When he hears how other schools approach retention or completion initiatives — measuring progress once per year or less — he says he has to chuckle.

“The places that are doing retention work the best are doing it the most,” Sluder said.

Middle Tennessee State University is part of EAB’s Student Success Collaborative, which claims about 200 members. Their participation gives MTSU staff access to a proprietary predictive model that identifies students who are at-risk, analytics capabilities to track and evaluate targeted campaigns, and a referral system so staff across campus can coordinate student support.

One fundamental way Sluder and his team are using the system is to track pre-registration from semester to semester, looking at persistence as a predictor of retention. The university hired 47 new advisors, bringing the student-to-advisor ratio down to a median of 260:1. Year-over-year comparisons of registration and re-enrollment numbers have become a rallying cry at MTSU, providing goalposts for improvement as advisors and others work to keep students on track.

In just the first few months of this work during the 2014-15 school year, 390 additional students persisted from the fall to the spring semester, generating $1.5 million in additional estimated revenue in tuition and fees. Beyond that, MTSU gets its funding from the state based on performance.

“There’s revenue production and funding that is implied here on all the initiatives that we’ve got,” Sluder said.

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