Here’s How One Campus Is Crushing America’s College Dropout Rate

The breakthroughs haven’t come at the cost of the — they’ve strengthened it.

Room to reflect. Photo by JayIngram11/Wikimedia Commons.


Georgia State University increased graduation rates by more than 40% using behavioral tracking systems.

Half of America’s 2 million new college students won’t graduate. At least, that’s what projections say. But new innovations that utilize student data to turn struggle into success are on track to change that daunting figure.

One especially promising path forward is coming from Georgia State University, which presents a model for how urban colleges can strike at the heart of the dropout crisis without relying on a big-time roster of wealthy benefactors.

About a decade of hard work has begun to pay off — not just in the eyes of students, but among the kinds of influential philanthropists whose support can make smart local solutions go national.

Think Bill Gates. In a recent blog post, Gates lauded the school for using academic records to isolate some 800 risk factors for dropping out — then organized their resources around intervening before risk became reality. Within 48 hours of a factor ID, an adviser reaches out, and the process of ensuring enrolled students stay enrolled begins.

Result? The dropout rate decreased a stunning 22 points in 10 years, even as the student body grew less wealthy and more diverse over time. The trick was the realization that one-on-one time with struggling kids didn’t always have to be face-to-face, even though regular personal contact was key.

But the big advantage on GSU’s side has been time.

Their current system has been ramping up for years. Given the space and resources to think the problem through, develop a set of complementary approaches, and assess their performance in an ongoing way, administrators and teachers have been able to not just think outside the box but bring what they learned back inside it. The breakthroughs haven’t come at the cost of the structure — they’ve strengthened it.

Thanks to innovative data analysis, advisers, who are each individually responsible for some 300 students, don’t get overwhelmed. Nor do they wake up one morning to discover that students have fallen through the cracks.

Then there’s the adaptive learning software that, paired with student-led supplemental instruction, flows attention and resources to those who need it most, where they need it most.

Measures like these have a comprehensive effect, but they don’t break the bank. And that means the goal of keeping college kids in college is far more attainable than almost anyone realized.

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