University: Then And Now

Katerina Hoare

Back in 1975, the popular opinion was that just passing your university classes – “P’s get degrees” – was enough to set you up for a successful career. Today, it’s very different. P’s may get you degrees… but they certainly won’t guarantee you a graduate job.

The age of simply passing subjects while spending vital study time down at the pub is over. Graduate positions have hundreds of equally competent university students vying for a very limited number of positions. Universities rely on their students to be successful when entering the workforce in order to reinforce the value of the degrees that they are offering. And think about all the times today’s students are told by a parent or a nosy aunt, “ohhh that degree may be interesting, but can you get a job with it straight away?” Ouch, reality hits.

The student’s objective has changed from my father’s time, where university was a chance to make lifelong friends, collect a piece of paper at the end, and set off job hunting. Today it is a more stressful experience with a less accepting and nurturing employment market waiting on the other side of that graduation ceremony.

But how can universities help their students? How can they give them the best possible chance of securing jobs after graduation and, in doing so, increase the value of the degrees and courses of study that they are offering? What if there was a way that professors, lecturers, and tutors could identify students at risk of failing a subject before they had enrolled in a subject, course, or major?

Before choosing majors for bachelor’s degrees, students must pass a collection of prerequisite subjects in their first and second years. A student’s ability to meet particular assessment criteria in their first two years can determine their success in passing the critical third-year subjects in their degree major. But remember: it isn’t enough to just pass classes these days. Students applying for internships and jobs learn that academic averages and GPAs will determine whether they get to the interview stage for a desired role. I was constantly warned by friends when I was in my first year that I needed to study hard to keep my grades high enough to earn Distinction. Luckily I did, which made me successful when applying for internships and jobs after graduation. But what about less informed students who aren’t in the loop around the need for a Distinction average? How can their university support them?

Are analytics the answer?

What if a university used analytics to identify a first-year student who scored a 58 in first-year finance (when the average for the cohort was 78) and, rather than enrolling him in a second-year finance course, automatically placed him into a tutorial class run by the subject lecturer? Wouldn’t that be better? Wouldn’t that increase the student experience and result in a higher mark and higher probability of graduate employment?

What about if a university used analytics to look at a student’s high school marks in mathematical methods and proactively nurse lower performing students through their first-year compulsory quantitative statistics courses?

Around 1 in 5 students will drop out of university or change their course within their first year. The Australian undergraduate population more than doubled in just a decade, from just over 159,000 students in 1994 to over 405,000 students in 2014. This means that the higher education sector is losing approximately $810 million in revenue per year (based on an average first-year course debt of $10,000, and a fifth of enrolled students dropping out). In my own personal network, I have multiple friends who have swapped and changed both bachelor’s courses and universities in their first year because they struggled, felt isolated, and didn’t receive the assistance from the faculty that they were accustomed to (and still needed) in high school.

Luckily, today universities are catching up with the need to deliver value to their students and to nurse them through their first year of university. Predictive analytics offers an opportunity for faculty to proactively identify at-risk students and put safeguards in place to ensure their optimal performance, which in turn provides them a higher probability of receiving a job after graduation.

University life has changed extensively since my father’s time, and it will continue to do so as employment markets change and students are encouraged to complete an undergraduate degree in increasing numbers. In failing to proactively identify and support at-risk students, Universities are leaving revenue on the table and churning out graduates who are likely to experience difficulty securing a  job post-graduation.

Learn more about higher education today in The Digital University.

About Katerina Hoare

Recent University graduate, passionate about leveraging SAP technology to improve the student experience and helping Universities Run Better