Tennessee colleges using tech tools to help students choose courses, majors

College students use tech tools for everything from ordering pizza to playing games. Now the same technology software is being used to help them decide 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, developed by Austin Peay State University’s provost Tristan Denley, uses data to first identify the course requirements for the student’s major, then 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 customers.“It helps them make better, more informed choices by using something they’re already familiar with – 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 both students and faculty.Effective at Austin Peay, the same technology will soon be in use on three other Tennessee Board of Regents campuses across the state – Nashville State Community College, Volunteer State Community College and the University of Memphis – thanks to a grant from Complete College America, in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. A portion of the $1 million grant has allowed the software to be adapted for use at the other colleges and tested for possible expansion and use state-wide.“We know that the more time it takes a student to earn a degree, the less likely they are to successfully complete,” said TBR Chancellor John Morgan. “With all the challenges facing students on a regular basis, knowing which courses to take when shouldn’t be a barrier. This tool will make it easier and help improve student advising.”The program, called the DegreeCompass, was quickly adopted for use at Austin Peay, where Denley says it accurately predicted a student’s performance within half a letter grade. It uses predictive analytics through a complex algorithm that pulls data and statistics from the university’s student database.Now he 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 a positive choice by others with similar grades and characteristics.The new software, which will also be used on the other three college campuses, will be closely tracked to evaluate the impact it has on student performance. The goal, according to Morgan, is to radically improve student advising and ultimately, college completion rates.The Tennessee Board of Regents is the nation’s sixth largest higher education system, governing 46 post-secondary educational institutions. The TBR system includes six universities, 13 community colleges and 27 technology centers, providing programs in 90 of Tennessee’s 95 counties to more than 200,000 students.

The College System of Tennessee is the state’s largest public higher education system, with 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology and the online TN eCampus serving approximately 140,000 students. The system is governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents.