For release: February 14, 2012
For press information, contact Curt Guenther, 901-678-2843
College students use tech tools for everything from ordering pizza to playing games.
The same technology software will soon beused to help University of Memphis studentsdecide
which courses will help them graduate faster, which courses will result in better
grades, and even what subject to choose for a major.
The technology, originally developed by Austin Peay State University Provost Tristan
Denley, uses data to identify the course requirements for a student’s major, then
to find the classes in which the student is most likely to perform well. The tool
scans the university’s records to compare the success of similar students taking similar
classes – much like online shopping programs recommend products purchased by other
“It helps them make better, more informed choices by using something they’re already
familiar with, such as a smart phone or mobile device app,” said Denley. While it
doesn’t replace traditional faculty advising, it makes the advising process easier
and faster for students and faculty.
Proven effective at Austin Peay, the same technology will soon be in use at the University
of Memphis and twoother Tennessee Board of Regents campuses – Nashville State Community
College and Volunteer State Community College – thanks to a grant to the Tennessee
Higher Education Commission from Complete College America, in collaboration with the
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Dr. Shannon Blanton, vice provost for Undergraduate Programs at the U of M, said,
"We are very excited about the opportunity to incorporate additional tools into our
advising processes and further enhance the ability of our students to make informed
choices about the classes they take and the major they select. Students have different
academic strengths and interests that translate into different patterns of academic
success. The student who excels in his or her journalism class, for example, might
have a different set of academic competencies and interests than the student who is
highly successful in a chemistry course. This technology will help students to identify
the academic areas in which they are most likely to excel and find personal satisfaction.
In turn, we expect that these students will be more likely to complete their degrees."
A portion of the $1 million grant has allowed the software to be adapted for use at
the University of Memphis andthe other colleges and to be tested for possible use
“We know that the more time it takes students to earn a degree, the less likely they
are to successfully complete college,” said TBR Chancellor John Morgan. “Of all the
challenges facing students on a regular basis, knowing which courses to take and when
to take them should not be one of those challenges. This tool will make it easier
for students to plan their course loads and will help improve the advising process.”
The program, called “Degree Compass,” uses predictive analytics through a complex
algorithm that pulls data and statistics from the university’s student database.
Denley said that after it accurately predicted a student’s performance to within half
a letter grade., it was quickly adopted for use at Austin Peay.
Now Denley and his colleagues are working on a feature to help students choose a major
– or find one that better fits their past performance and one that has proven to be
a positive choice for other students with similar grades and characteristics.
The new software will be closely tracked to evaluate the impact it has on student
performance. According to TBR’s Morgan, the goal is to radically improve student advising
and ultimately, college completion rates.