Berens, Johannes Oster, Simon Schneider, Kerstin Burghoff, Julian
Year of Publication:
Schumpeter Discussion Papers 2018-006
High rates of student attrition in tertiary education are a major concern for universities and public policy, as dropout is not only costly for the students but also wastes public funds. To successfully reduce student attrition, it is imperative to understand which students are at risk of dropping out and what are the underlying determinants of dropout. We develop an early detection system (EDS) that uses machine learning and classic regression techniques to predict student success in tertiary education as a basis for a targeted intervention. The method developed in this paper is highly standardized and can be easily implemented in every German institution of higher education, as it uses student performance and demographic data collected, stored, and maintained by legal mandate at all German universities and therefore self-adjusts to the university where it is employed. The EDS uses regression analysis and machine learning methods, such as neural networks, decision trees and the AdaBoost algorithm to identify student characteristics which distinguish potential dropouts from graduates. The EDS we present is tested and applied on a medium-sized state university with 23,000 students and a medium-sized private university of applied sciences with 6,700 students. Both institutes of higher education differ considerably in their organization, tuition fees and student-teacher ratios. Our results indicate a prediction accuracy at the end of the first semester of 79% for the state university and 85% for the private university of applied sciences. Furthermore, accuracy of the EDS increases with each completed semester as new performance data becomes available. After the fourth semester, the accuracy improves to 90% for the state university and 95% for the private university of applied sciences. At the day of enrollment the accuracy, relying only on demographic data, is 68% for the state university and 67% for the private university.