Go Big or Go Home? Both Big Data and Small Data are Key to Your Retention Strategy

Data comes in all shapes and sizes, and while the saying “go big or go home” might have some educators thinking that “big data” is the only way to go. But it’s simply not true. Equally important in your institution’s retention efforts is “small data” – the information that you likely already collect, telling you on a daily basis how engaged a student is at any given moment.

Both big and small data empower you to not only understand your students – their challenges and their successes – but when combined, these data sets give you the insight to know exactly when and how to reach out so you can retain more students.

Let’s take a closer look.

Big Data

Big data interventions help your team discover correlations between student information and student behavior. This information is often based on a student’s historical and personal profile. Using big data, you can predict and tag at-risk students so you are not only on the lookout for potential problem areas, you can be proactive and reach out before those problem areas even surface. Big data modeling should incorporate:

  • Prior academic data
  • Life events
  • Financial aid information
  • Registration data

Small Data

Small data interventions, on the other hand, might not help you assess the big picture quite like big data, but it can be even more important when it comes to targeting and supporting at-risk students. Small data gives you a snapshot of a students’ current progress so you can see exactly where a student might be falling behind. Small data modeling should incorporate:

  • Academic performance
  • Classroom attendance
  • Course management software usage

The Outcome

The power of your retention strategy comes in finding correlations between all of this student information and how your students actually persist – connecting data between systems and creating predictive models based upon the insights gathered.

Sarah Horn

As the VP of Retention at Helix Education, Sarah brings unique insight into student retention from more than a decade of experience in higher education, nearly all in operations. She has designed, scaled and managed a success coaching program for an online Associate's Degree, and has a tremendous amount of experience aligning and implementing relevant, practical retention strategies that drive results. Previously, she worked for Inside Track as Campus Director, implementing large-scale partnership. Sarah is a graduate of The University of Rochester and earned her Master's degree at John F. Kennedy University.