Predicting a students’ future requires data from the past. That’s one of the reasons behind Hobsons’ decision to acquire the technology framework built by PAR, a nonprofit launched in May 2011 to research and build predictive analytics tools for education.
Over the years, PAR brought together a network of 25 higher-ed institutional partners—representing more than 350 two- and four-year colleges—to create a common benchmark for collecting data and analyzing trends on how students perform. “What we found pretty early on was that it was possible to use de-identified data from institutions from a variety of settings to make predictions on how students can be successful in their pursuits,” says Beth Davis, chief executive of PAR.
The PAR engine gathers 77 commonly defined data variables from its partners, upon which it creates several hundred ways to analyze student behavior. Most of what is collected comes from the schools’ student information systems. In addition to details about courses and grades, the engine also collects data about age and financial aid status. Davis claims PAR has compiled a data set of more than two million students and 20 million courses.
Some “universal truths” have emerged from analyzing this data, according to Davis. Among them: a single course withdrawal dramatically decreases the chance that a student will return the next year. She also claims there’s a “magic ratio” of course credits earned to credits attempted, that can influence whether a student is likely to remain at the school.
As part of the deal, Davis and her team of 10 will join Hobsons in a new division. One of their first tasks: plugging the data framework into a student services tool, Starfish Retention Systems, which the company acquired in February 2015. Starfish specializes in connecting students with counselors, advisors and other academic support services on campus.
Integrating the two tools will help universities not just identify the students who are at risk, says Stephen Smith, president of advising and admissions at Hobsons, but also provide the appropriate follow-up support and services available on campus. One of his goals is to “reduce the number of students who enroll in higher-ed institutions and leave after their first or second year.”
Even prior to the deal, Smith said there was already “significant pent-up demand from customers who were already using both PAR and Starfish.” Approximately ninety percent of PAR’s members are also using Hobsons’ services. Discussions between the two parties have been going on for the past eight months before the transaction closed on Dec. 23, 2015.
Financial terms were not disclosed. Proceeds of the sale will go to a new organization, Foundation for Student Success, which will conduct research on the effects of student interventions. Several people from PAR’s board of directors are on the board of this new nonprofit.