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Project Title:Degree Compass—A Course Recommendation System Using Predicted Academic PerformanceInstitution Name:Austin Peay State University Innovation Category:Student Success Project Director:Tristan Denley, ProvostContact Information:(931) 221-7998, denleyt@apsu.eduWebsite:
Project Description:Degree Compass successfully pairs current students with the courses that best fit their talents and program of study for upcoming semesters. The model combines hundreds of thousands of past students’ grades with each particular student’s transcript to make individualized recommendations for each student. This system, in contrast to systems that recommend movies or books, does not depend on which classes students like more than others. Instead it uses predictive analytics techniques based on grade and enrollment data to rank courses according to factors that measure how well each course might help the student progress through their program. The course recommendation system was developed in-house, the project was led by Provost Tristan Denley.
  • Many students, especially first-generation and non-traditional students, find significant challenges in making well informed decisions about which courses would best help them progress successfully through their degree program.
  • This results in students taking on average 20% more courses than they need to graduate.
  • While advisors can provide advice about which courses satisfy degree requirements, it is difficult for them to asses a student’s academic performance in a future class—especially one outside their discipline.
  • We sought to create a system that, through a simple interface, would provide information to students and advisors to improve the choice of courses and consequently improve degree progress and completion.

Our most recent data shows:

  • When selecting their courses 45.4% of the classes on student schedules were courses listed in the top 10 recommended courses and 57% were listed in the top 15.
  • There was a very significant difference between the grade distributions in courses recommended in their top10 courses and courses lower in the list or not included at all — 3% more students achieved ABC grades and 6.5% more students achieved A or B grades.
  • The grade predictions of the real-life data was also very comparable to those in the pilot tests. On average, the grade predictions were within .6 of a letter grade, and the average GPA was within 0.02 of a letter grade.
Challenges/Problems Encountered:The main challenge with this system was creating a mathematical model to successfully estimate a student’s future grades to an acceptable tolerance, based on the student’s transcript and the university’s legacy grade data. A secondary challenge was designing a system to sequence courses in a natural order, based on both a given major and the university curriculum as a whole. Once these models were designed and tested, the system then had to be taken to full scale, seamlessly interacting with APSU’s course management system. 
Evaluation Approach:We analyze the grade prediction data to see how accurately the system is able to predict future grades. The grade data is also analyzed to see whether students perform significantly better on recommended courses when compared with courses not recommended. Student scheduling data is analyzed to see how the recommendations are affecting student schedules. Last, student progress data is being analyzed to see how making more informed decisions improve students’ progress through their degree.
Potential for Replication:Degree Compass played a central role in Tennessee’s successful Completion Innovation Challenge application, which received a $1,000,000 award from Complete College America and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support implementation of Degree Compass at Nashville State Community College, Volunteer State Community College, and the University of Memphis. Students, advisors, and administrators at these institutions are now using the system to create schedules for fall 2012. We have begun to work with other early adopting institutions about implementation on their campuses.
Additional Resources:

Degree Compass—What Is It? ASPU Office of Information Technology

Article about ASPU’s Degree Compass program, Recommended for You, Inside Higher Ed, March 16, 2012

CEO-to-CEO Contact:Tim Hall , Presidenthallt@apsu.edu
(931) 221-7566
Date Published: Thursday, March 29, 2012