Grant Funds Computerized Advising Program for Tennessee College Students

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is giving Tennessee a $1 million grant to help college students take the most efficient steps to a degree. The grant will fund a new computerized advising program.

Governor Bill Haslam says the new program has been tested at Clarksville’s Austin Peay State University. The computer software looks at students’ transcripts and experience and suggests areas the student may be interested in – and the courses to take to follow that path.

Haslam says the program will help students complete their degrees in less time by helping them make better career decisions.

“What this million dollars will help us to do- two or three things- to simplify, it’ll make it easier for students to understand the pathway they need to their degree. It’ll help colleges better prepare to make certain their course loads better match students’ demands and desires for completion.”

Because public college students are being subsidized by the taxpayer, the state government has an interest in seeing that degrees are completed on time, the governor says.

Tennessee is one of 10 states to get the Gates Foundation funding.

The program will be extended to three more universities, but they haven’t been chosen yet, according to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

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The governor says the new program makes students’ choices more efficient, eliminating a lot of false starts along major paths for which a student may not be suited.

“It is a factor both to the student- there is a cost involved for being in school – to the work force, in terms of having a prepared work force. And third, to the state. With everybody that’s in public institution, the state and the taxpayer subsidize them, to a degree. So the quicker we can complete those degrees, the better.”

The grant comes to the state through the 30-state consortium, “Complete College America,” and is funded by the Gates Foundation.

According to the official press release from the governor:

“Governors from all 50 states were invited to submit proposals to win one of ten $1 million, 18-month implementation grants for innovative, high-impact college completion initiatives designed to enhance student success and close attainment gaps for traditionally underrepresented populations. Thirty-three states ultimately entered the highly competitive contest. As a winning state, Tennessee was determined to have one of the nation’s most promising strategies to smooth and shorten pathways to college completion for all students.”

The state’s plan used the “the Adaptive Advising Tool,” a new tool designed at APSU that uses an algorithm based on prescriptive analytics to provide tailored course recommendations to students – based not just on degree requirements but on likelihood of success in the course.

The program’s designed compares it to the match-books technology used by Amazon.com, which takes the books you own and purchase and suggests books bought by other people who bought the same books you have.

The designer says the program is general and is designed to open up choices to students, not restrict them.

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