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Big Data Won't Solve the Student Loan Crisis


In the past, when students at Georgia State weren’t able to pay their tuition bill, they were barred from class, which often led to their dropping out altogether. But vice provost Timothy M. Renick analyzed the university’s student data and noticed that many of the students who were unable to pay were only a few-hundred dollars short and often performing well academically.

Renick decided to address the problem by providing micro-grants to students in need. The program worked, and now Georgia State is looking to expand it, with the help of Big Data. The Chronicle of Higher Ed reports:

By mining the [student] data, the university is able to spend its limited funds on students who have the potential to do the most with the extra dollars. Georgia State calls them “structured interventions”: Find a problem, comb the numbers to figure out a solution, test the idea on a small group of students, and either tweak it or expand it if it works.

Advanced data mining and analysis certainly has potential to improve the student debt situation, much as it has the potential to improve many other aspects of our lives. If there are inefficiencies to be found, that’s “cash on the table” that we can pick up.

But we shouldn’t expect any miracles from Big Data. The Chronicle piece is titled “How a Little Data Can Solve One of Higher Education’s Biggest Problems”; this is surely an overstatement.

The core problem of student debt is structural. Tuition at all universities is far higher than it should be; the real question is how it got so high, and what we can do to lower it. Universities and political leaders should focus as much of their attention as possible on figuring out how to deliver the $10,000 bachelor’s degree, for example.

[Ball and chain image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Jim Luebke

    Someone here recently floated the idea of making universities co-sign for student loans. I think they need to give that a try.

  • Kelly Hall

    Universities have no incentive to lower tuition, as the manna known as student loan money flows to them regardless of their academic and financial performance. They get their money in full up front, and any delinquencies are someone else’s problem. There can be no reform in higher ed costs until universities are forced to put some skin in the game.

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