The Day Higher Ed DATA got Personal-One Mom’s Story

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When your own kid becomes a statistic, predictive analytics, big data, and “improving practices” goes from a legitimate business concern to “them’s fightin’ words”. I am the Chief Sales & Marketing Officer for SmarterServices. I have four children, ages 21, 18, 14, and 2. thems fightinAt the risk of sounding stereotypical and giving in to labels, my 21 year old son, Tanner, by all accounts was/is a text-book case of the “strong-willed child“. Questioning everything growing up, was his M.O. His 4th grade teacher nicknamed him “what-if” and his 5th grade Sunday school teacher to this day, still remembers his constant energy and continual “whys”. He definitely has all the traits of someone who is going to be successful. Tanner is no less energetic and inquisitive today than he was when he was 6-mos old climbing up on the fireplace and dragging books into the floor. Tanner was always challenged me as a mommy. He requires a lot, but in turn he gives a lot. He was known among our friends as the hardest working 2 year old they knew. From an early age, he “cut” the grass with his dad, and begged to vacuum inside. Working hard was his middle name.

My son was never a great student. He suffered with ADHD in his tanner littleearly years, but we never allowed it to be an excuse for not doing his best. Academics didn’t come easy and math was a constant thorn in his side. Nonetheless, he graduated with a 3.0 and went on to college. Fast forward 3.5 years later, 3 universities, 2 girlfriends, 3 jobs, 3 different majors, and 1 apartment later, and he’s still a year shy of credits to finish his bachelor’s degree.

One of the jobs he most enjoyed was retail at the Sunglass Hut in sales where he consistently surpassed all of his sales goals. At one point he was the top sales person in the region. When working for a lawn care service, his boss commented that they’d never seen such a hardworking teenager. But yet, here he is…21 yrs old, taking a break from school, overwhelmed with difficult math classes that he is struggling to pass, and feeling hopeless about ever “finishing school”. He just wants to be in the workforce learning about life and new skills and be successful. All the while carrying approximately $15,000 in student loan debt.

From a young age, we’ve told our children that a college degree is essential to gainful, long-term employment. He knows how we feel about it. It’s not optional. Daily in my job, I read articles about student retention, student resources/support, and how big data is going to help higher ed do a better job of running a school. But when I look at my son and realize that he qualifies as a statistic on a chart, it hits too close to home. I see a kid that has barely stepped into adulthood with a lot of grown up decisions in front of him.

I was not and am not a helicopter mom. In fact, perhaps I should’ve been more “on top of things” through the years. But we believed in personal responsibility and our kids figuring it out. Heck, that’s what we had to do and we turned out just fine.

My son recently moved home over the holidays to sit out a semester and work to save up some money. He found a job at a local Chick-Fil-A and has been offered a marketing position with potential to work into a manager trainee position. The environment is fast-paced which is right up his alley. He likes his coworkers and is excited about getting to work. He desperately needed the mental break from school and I am hoping this will be just what the doctor ordered.

As a parent, however, I want him to know that this isn’t a long-term solution. Without a 4-yr degree, he will miss out on a lot of job opportunities that he won’t even be qualified to apply for. If he doesn’t finish school, we will have paid a lot of money for nothing more than a few years of book knowledge and nothing more to show for it. “I’ll take classes online, mom…I’ll go to school at night, mom”. But I know things he doesn’t. Life is hard. Life happens and before you know it you are married with kids, working 40 hrs a week and still struggling to make ends meet. I know, because I’ve been there.NSC Completion

This morning, when I was doing my normal “reading for work”, I came across an article, Predictive Analytics in Higher Education. That’s when it hit me. According to this chart, my son was nothing more than a statistic. It’s time we stop looking at charts and looking eye to eye, face to face, with the students-the PEOPLE-to whom we are referring. Often times when we are reviewing data, it’s easy to lose sight of the WHO behind it. May we never forget, the names and faces from whom we are learning.

I know there are many, many faculty and college administrators who take their role very seriously in helping students be successful. I also am a firm believer that we are all responsible for our own success. Hopefully we will all continue to look at the data with human eyes and use it to make the lives better of our students!





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