Big data saves campus millions of dollars in funding

Each year 81% of students receive financial assistance to attend Mizzou. Some of that funding comes from the US Department of Education (DOE) Federal Pell Grant Program. For universities to receive these funds they must undergo a federal program review, wherein the US Department of Education audits the financial aid records. The DOE reviewed the university’s records last year and concluded that, based on grades, some students that received funding might not have attended classes. The DOE required the Office of Student Financial Aid to prove that every student that received Pell Grants from 2010 to 2012 had attended class. Without a clear way to prove that every student receiving Pell Grants was attending class, a large amount of money was hanging in the balance. Three thousand classes without proof of attendance could result in a loss of approximately six million dollars. This loss would be catastrophic not only to the university but to students that rely on Pell Grant funding.

Having heard about ET@MO through university presentations, the Office of Student Financial Aid considered the possibility of using the Blackboard Learn course management system and other student information systems to solve their problem. Staff from the Office of Student Financial Aid worked with ET@MO and the Division of IT to retrieve student activity from Blackboard Learn course sites. These reports provided sufficient data to prove that students were active and attending their classes.

“Thinking about what is possible, knowing what information is available, and communicating” were the keys to problem solving between university departments said Nick Prewett, director of student financial aid.

This was a significant interdepartmental effort with ET@MO’s data resources at the center. This team worked with deans, department chairs, and past and present instructors over a span of four months to obtain attendance data, while ET@MO was scouring data from Blackboard Learn.

ET@MO, the Division of IT, and the Office of Student Financial Aid were able to prove that almost 90% of the students in question had attended class, saving the university millions of dollars. The task wasn’t over though. The team created policies that would help avoid similar situations in the future. As a result, ET@MO now archives more Blackboard Learn user information, rather than wiping the system clean at the end of the year. ET@MO has also integrated an automation system that alerts the instructor or advisor when a student doesn’t appear to be attending classes.

“ET@MO keeps this type of data for retrieval,” said Terry Patterson, a Learning Management System Administrator with the Division of IT. “We are always striving to improve data storage and retrieval.” Looking to the future, the data management assets at ET@MO can be utilized in dynamic ways. Managing huge amounts of data is key for streamlining university processes, carrying out world-class research, and innovating new teaching strategies.