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Degree Compass - Course Suggestion Tool

Degree Compass and My Future

Degree Compass, a course recommendation system developed by Dr Tristan Denley at Austin Peay. Inspired by recommendation systems implemented by companies such as Netflix, Amazon and Pandora, Degree Compass successfully pairs current students with the courses that best fit their talents and program of study for upcoming semesters. The model combines hundreds of thousands of past students’ grades with each particular student’s transcript to make individualized recommendations for each student.

 This system, in contrast to systems that recommend movies or books, does not depend on which classes are liked more than others. Instead it uses predictive analytics techniques based on grade and enrollment data to rank courses according to factors that measure how well each course might help the student progress through their program. From the courses that apply directly to the student’s program of study, the system selects those courses that fit best with the sequence of courses in their degree and are the most central to the university curriculum as whole. That ranking is then overlaid with a model that predicts which courses the student will achieve their best grades. In this way the system most strongly recommends a course which is necessary for a student to graduate, core to the university curriculum and their major, and in which the student is expected to succeed academically.

The latest performance statistics for Degree Compass show that the software successfully predicts grades to within .6 of a letter grade on average, and for more than 90% of the classes in which the software predicts that a student will get an A, B or C they in reality get one of those grades. Using the Degree Compass as part of academic advising at APSU has steered students towards more classes in which they would more readily succeed. A comparison of student grades before the introduction of the system with those today show a steadily increasing proportionof ABC grades so that  results in fall 2012 are almost 5 standard deviations better than those in fall 2010. The effect was especially pronounced for students who were Pell grant recipients, with a 4% increase in the likelihood that a student would earn an ABC from fall 2010 to 2012 (that is a 7.7 standard deviation swing).

The system has gained national attention and played a central role in Tennessee’s successful Completion Innovation Challenge application, which received a $1,000,000 award from Complete College America and the Gates Foundation to support implementing Degree Compass at three other campuses in Tennessee. Degree Compass was also the recipient of a bronze award at the IMS Global Learning Consortium's Learning Impact 2012 Awards. Bill Gates mentioned Degree Compass in his recent keynote address on the Future of Public Higher Education during a June 26, 2012 event honoring the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Land Grant Act. Governor Haslam too mentioned Degree Compass and APSU in his State of the State address this year.

In fall 2012 APSU instroduced the added functionality of the My Future system that is designed to help students in their choice of a degree program.

For a student who has already identified their major My Future provides information about concentration choices and degree pathways, as well as links Department of Labor stratistics about prospective career paths, and job availability for that major. For a student who is yet to choose a major, or is thinking about changing their major, it provides a list of majors in which that student is predicted to be the most academically successful. Again, for each of these majors information is provided about concentration choices and degree pathways, as well as prospective career paths, and job availability.

The system uses data-mining techniques to find the courses that are the best indicators of success in each of APSU's programs - the courses that capture the flavor of each major - then uses Degree Compass' predictive technology to find the majors in which a student will be the most academically successful.

The majors that are suggested are suggested as a guide to which topics best match each student's academic talents. But, there are lots of factors that should be weighed in the choice of a major. My Future provides a new source of information for students to discuss with advisors and department faculty as they choose the right degree path for them.

Degree Compass has been featured in the following newspaper articles and books: