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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 3:57 pm

Ball State using data to boost retention

Associated Press

MUNCIE – Ball State University is turning to a new software program to track students’ digital footprints and help them graduate in four years.

The Rapid Insight program uses data collected from a variety of sources to identify students who might need more support from the university.

"These tools really help compartmentalize the data sets. It lets you ask the question," said Phillip Repp, vice president of information technologies.

Data on Ball State students are collected in a variety of ways. Information on whether a student is engaged on campus can come from the use of university-issued ID cards, which are swiped in card readers when entering residence halls, buying food or getting into sporting and social events around campus.

A freshman survey that measures how students feel about the community and their classes can offer other clues about how students are doing.

The university compiles the data to see a specific student’s habits by showing a pattern of someone who is engaged in campus life – or not.

Comparing the trends and habits of a student in their campus life with other data from their academic life forms a bigger picture of the student’s track.

Rapid Insight can alert school officials to potential changes in habit to help keep students on track.

"We know from national research that if students are engaged, they are more likely to graduate on time," said Kay Bales, Ball State’s vice president of student affairs.

Though some students balk at the idea of closer monitoring, others say it makes sense to help them make the most of their time on campus.

"You know, it costs a lot of money to go here, so it behooves (students) to really keep on track," said Alexis Hamilton, a junior premed psychology student.

Repp said Rapid Insight isn’t really a revolutionary idea.

"Big data is used everywhere around the country now, from cybersecurity to online courses. The change is extracting data and having algorithms to understand that data is more common now than five years ago," Repp said.

The software is still in the testing phase, but Bales said Ball State hopes to have the project in operation by this fall.