Wednesday, November 23, 2011

College admissions and searchable data

A slightly breathless but interesting story in The Washington Monthly about college admissions, and how it may be transformed by data mining (and focused on the company Connectedu): "The End of College Admissions As We Know It: Everything you’ve heard about getting in is about to go out the window."

"Because the information that might help them is entombed in file folders, colleges resort to an expensive, inefficient, scattershot strategy. A typical midrange private college looking to enroll 1,200 freshmen might buy a list of 350,000 names from the College Board. An expensive but poorly targeted direct-mail campaign leads to 11,000 applications. They accept 5,000, of whom only 1,200 choose to enroll. Of those, more than half drop out or transfer, leaving the college struggling to bring in enough tuition revenue to pay their bills and left with no option other than buying another 350,000 names.

"Students have a similar problem. It’s hard to choose the right college. Higher education is what economists call an “experiential good,” something you can’t fully understand until after you purchase and experience it. As parents of college age children know, students often assemble a list of prospective schools through a frighteningly arbitrary process of hearsay, peer misinformation, and fleeting impressions gained during slickly produced college tours. Or, worse, they don’t assemble a prospective list at all and default to inexpensive, nearby institutions. Some of those local colleges are terrible places to go to school. (See “College Dropout Factories,” September/October 2010.) Too many students don’t find out until it’s too late.
"There are other players in this market, including the Common Application and a company called Naviance, which offers electronic college planning tools for high school students. The virtue of ConnectEDU, though, is that it spans the entire process, from late middle school into college and beyond. The company’s first foray into the market came in 2006, when it signed up three colleges and fifteen high schools. In 2007, it was up to thirty-five high schools and 300 colleges. It began signing up school districts instead of individual schools, then moved to contracts with entire states, starting with Michigan. The number of high schools increased to 700 in 2008, 1,700 in 2009, and 2,500 in 2010. That amounts to about 2.5 million students. The Miami-Dade County school system joined the network last year. The state of Hawaii signed up in May 2011.

"The number of colleges using the service has also increased, to 450, representing a decent—though not quite commanding—subset of the schools that receive large numbers of applications. Yale signed up in 2008."

HT: Stephanie Hurder

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