Software spots likely dropouts

March 16, 2007

Databases are being used to identify and target students most at risk ofquitting. Anastasia Moloney reports

A software program has been developed to help cut Colombia's high undergraduate dropout rate.

Fabio Sánchez, an economist and director of the Bogotá - based Centre of Economic Studies at the University of the Andes, said that Spadies, which was funded by the Ministry of Education and designed at the university centre, uses various databases of student information to calculate the chances of students dropping out of university based on a range of determining factors.

"We've developed the software to predict a student's risk factor using sets of indicators and parameters such as a student's social and economic background, marital status, academic record, schooling, age, gender and degree studied," Mr Sánchez explained.

The software groups students into five risk categories, from low to high.

It also highlights the specific reasons why a particular student may be forced to quit university. Using this data, universities are able to target those at risk of dropping out.

"Spadies is one of many preventive strategies and tools being used to reduce dropout rates in higher education institutions. It allows staff to identify at-risk students and help them before it is too late," Mr S nchez said.

He added that Spadies would encourage the ministry and universities to work closely together to reduce undergraduate dropout rates. The ministry supplies the free software and provides technical assistance and training, while universities can monitor students using data provided by Spadies.

Since last year, 70 universities have adopted Spadies, which includes a database of 800,000 students. The ministry plans to install the software in 50 more universities by the end of the year. The aim is to get all of Colombia's 7 higher education institutions to use the program.

Information provided by Spadies shows that 20 per cent of dropouts in Colombia are forced to quit university due to lack of funding and 45 per cent of dropouts because of previous poor academic performance at school and later throughout university. Parental income and background was also highlighted as a determining factor in causing students to drop out, particularly during the first year.

The ministry hopes that Spadies can help reduce undergraduate dropout rates from 50 per cent to 25 per cent by 2019.

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