By Alison Spencer. At UC San Diego, academic advisors now get help from a data model to guide students toward a timely graduation. Jonathan Whitman, the Director of Technology for Administrative Technology Services at UCSD, led a program to utilize machine learning analytics and advanced predictive modeling to guess how long a student will take to graduate.
In real-time, the data model can recommend steps to shorten time to graduation, such as extra tutoring or summer classes. To preserve student privacy, the information is only shared with academic advisors as part of their meetings with students. Advisors recognize the need to complement the model’s predictions with person-to-person discussion. “Our academic advisors use their expertise in contextualizing the predictive score to each student’s situation,” said Whitman.
Staff members also track student outcomes so they can determine which resource referrals are getting students back on track. “When we refer a student to resources, we’ll follow up and see if they did seek the recommended help and if this had a positive effect on their time to degree,” said Whitman. The resulting data is fed back into the data model. By tracking different student outcomes over time, the model becomes more effective at identifying the best recommendations an advisor can give for a particular student.
The chance to work on ambitious, collaborative projects like this is Whitman’s favorite part of working at UCSD. “What makes me really love the job is working with a lot of talented people,” Whitman said. He also values being able to contribute to the university he graduated from. “I have a deep passion for this institution and the research and instruction it does,” said Whitman.
He enjoys helping his alma mater improve student services. For example, the division of biological sciences built an application to manage accommodations for students with disabilities. Whitman helped connect the app to the IT department’s central communication system. Now, all departments can efficiently manage accommodations instead of relying on emails and spreadsheets. “This is extremely helpful for resource planning. Before, this was a siloed and hidden activity,” said Whitman. “When we draft off what larger departments do and apply that across the entire landscape, we get economies of scale and big wins.”
Whitman sees projects like this as a benefit of having IT staff spread out across campus. “Partnership is key,” said Whitman. “Those of us in technology cannot see ourselves merely as service providers, but as true partners when it comes to serving our faculty, students, and staff.”