The program is a product of higher education's growing dependence on predictive analytics to increase retention and graduation rates, thus lowering costs.

62 60 31 LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

As a college freshman, attempting to navigate through the murky waters of course selection is enough to keep anyone lost at sea.

Between waves of core requirements and deceivingly hard upper level classes, education technology company Desire2Learn aims to provide a lighthouse in its Degree Compass program.

Degree Compass is an online predictive analysis system that ranks classes on a scale of one to five stars, based on how well a course fulfills a graduation requirement, how useful it is toward a student's major and how difficult it will be.

The program is a product of higher education's growing dependence on predictive analytics to increase retention and graduation rates, thus lowering costs.

The hope is that Degree Compass "demystifies the maze of higher education," said program creator Tristan Denley.

Denley is the provost and vice president for Academic and Student Affairs at Austin Peay State University. Austin Peay students served as the guinea pigs for the program's development in spring 2011 – before it was acquired by Desire2Learn last year.

The program arrives as many institutions grapple for financial support to make sure every student has the chance to graduate.

During a White House briefing on President Obama's proposed college ranking system, Degree Compass was mentioned as a significant tool in its technology armory to help students.

Inspired by recommendation systems such as those of Amazon or Netflix, the algorithm sorts through mountains of data, including past students' grades and test scores, to help tailor recommendations specific to each student.

"The student-focused interface allows students to make informed decisions about their education," Denley said. "It empowers them."

Austin Peay senior Brittany Wester echoed this sentiment, adding that the program takes care of the occasionally sticky relationship between student and adviser.

"Degree Compass certainly guides the student when the adviser is not that committed to making sure the student is on track," Wester said. "Students can now go into their meeting with their adviser prepared."

Bridget Mazza, a senior elementary education major at Saint Anselm University, found the idea of Degree Compass intriguing.

"I would be curious to learn more about it," Mazza said. "It almost sounds too good to be true. I would probably trust recommendations from people who have taken the course over a computer program."

There is the worry it might push a student to take a course for the "easy A" or restrict the chance to explore outside interests.

Denley argued it does just the opposite.

"The subtlety of it is that it's not making decisions for you or not restricting you from courses you want to take," Denley said. "It simply lays out the courses that best fit an individual's degree path and performance level."

Degree Compass has been instituted in seven universities and community colleges in Tennessee. Denley said they're already seeing results.

"From the data we've collected, we can see that students are doing significantly better across the board," Denley said. "As a general trend, there is a tight correlation between recommended courses and completion of hours towards graduation."

Denley noted that the achievement gaps between federal financial aid recipients and non-recipients as well as the gap between white and minority students have both narrowed significantly.

Annie Johnson is a senior at Wake Forest University.

62 60 31 LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://usat.ly/1aSJMfy