Predictive Analytics Helps Lipscomb University Improve Student Retention Programs and Promote Data-Informed Decision Making

Lipscomb University is one of the fastest-growing private doctoral universities in the nation. Founded in 1891 and located in the heart of Nashville, Tennessee, Lipscomb is a Christian liberal arts institution with nationally recognized academic programs, small class sizes, intentional faculty, international study opportunities, and faith-integrated experiences and curriculum. Lipscomb University currently supports more than 4,600 students across graduate and undergraduate programs, as well as over 1,000 employees (including part-time faculty).

Since Dr. L. Randolph Lowry, Lipscomb University’s current president, was inaugurated in 2005, six new colleges and seven institutes within the institution have been established. Lowry also oversaw the launch of the university’s first-ever doctoral program in 2008. Lipscomb University now offers three doctoral degree programs. During Lowry’s tenure as president, university enrollment has grown by 83%, marked by a 660% increase in graduate program enrollment.

This growth has been accompanied by a focus on innovation and developing new pathways for students to access a university education through online programs, first-generation programs, veterans programs, a pathway for community college students, and a degree program for inmates at the Tennessee Prison for Women. among others. While remaining rooted in its identity as a mission-driven, faith-based institution, Lipscomb University is striving to reach a new wave of students and help meet local workforce needs through these pathways and newly launched academic programs. Lipscomb has truly adopted an entrepreneurial mindset to be of better service to its community.

Matt Rehbein, Director of Institutional Research in the Office of the Provost, joined the Lipscomb University staff in May 2011. Matt’s initial responsibilities were to standardize academic reporting and identify factors behind a recent dip in freshman retention. He set out to accomplish these tasks by establishing strong relationships with the other university departments he would serve. Improving the reputation of the IR department among Lipscomb colleagues was critical to his mission.

The Challenge

Matt’s success as Director of IR required tremendous efficiency. He was a one-person department supporting thousands of students and hundreds of full-time faculty.

Like many institutional researchers, his daily task list pulled him in many different directions. One day he could be providing feedback on course evaluation systems or looking at program trends for a department head; another day he could be writing scripts to cleanse data or preparing reports for accreditors.

These tasks were important to the university but required him to balance more and more responsibilities with no increase in resources or staffing. Matt needed a tool that could help him efficiently prepare data, create data sets, and build predictive models for student retention. He also needed a means of visualizing and sharing data in a more interactive way to reduce the volume of ad hoc requests he was receiving from other departments.

Matt began working with Dr. Brian Mast, Associate Provost for Academic Support Services, who was hired to drive improvement in student retention. With the opening of Lipscomb’s Academic Success Center in 2012 under Dr. Mast’s direction, freshman retention began trending upward again. However, both colleagues knew they needed a tool to help them more specifically identify which students were most at risk of leaving the institution in order to intervene earlier and more effectively.

The Approach

Matt was introduced to Rapid Insight, an analytics software solutions company serving the higher education market, by the CIO and IT team at Lipscomb University. They thought the Veera analytics platform by Rapid Insight might address needs around predictive modeling for student retention.

“I wasn’t specifically looking for this tool,” Matt shared. “Sometimes you don’t know what you really need until you see it.” Matt evaluated the Veera platform and was surprised by what he discovered.

Veera Construct offered Matt the ability to build visual queries and blend data sets with no coding or in-depth SQL experience required—which was critical to Matt since he did not have a background in programming. Veera Construct provided Matt with an intuitive interface to quickly build step-by-step workflows.

“I wasn’t specifically looking for this tool. Sometimes you don’t know what you really need until you see it.”

Veera Predict offered Matt a solid predictive modeling tool without the complexity or expense of an enterprise data science platform. Since one query builds on another, it was simple to scale. Using Veera Construct and Veera Predict in tandem, Matt could build complex queries from multiple data sources for true predictive analytics processes.

Matt quickly realized that the Veera platform offered value beyond his original need for predictive modeling. For example, Matt could leverage Veera Construct as a stand-alone solution to blend and prep data for accreditation. The Veera platform also provided the visualization tools he required without needing to adopt an expensive BI platform.

In September 2015, Matt signed on with Rapid Insight. Aside from the initial introduction from the CIO, Matt needed very little IT support to deploy the software. He rolled the tool out by himself, and with the support of the Rapid Insight team, was fully operational within six months.

For Matt, the authentic relationships and great technical support he received from the Rapid Insight team were another important factor in moving forward with the solution. They were always available with unlimited support during the onboarding process.

Based off the initial success of Veera Predict and Construct—and the support Matt received from the Rapid Insight team—Lipscomb University expanded their investment to include Veera Bridge in the summer of 2018. Veera Bridge, the newest element of the Veera platform, allows researchers like Matt to build dashboards and share responsive reports throughout their organization. Lipscomb University now has 70 users of Veera Bridge. “Put simply, Veera Bridge is the public face of Institutional Research at Lipscomb University,” said Matt. “It allows me to create nodes of institutional research all across the organization, bringing self-service reporting and basic analytics to key decision makers.”

“Put simply, Veera Bridge is the public face of Institutional Research at Lipscomb University.”

The Results

The Veera platform provided Matt an easy-to-use and cost-effective tool that allowed him to save time and increase his productivity.

Because of the work of the Academic Success Center and the predictive insights gleaned from the Veera platform, Lipscomb University was able to validate the need for and hire two Cohort Coaches that focus on at-risk students and help build more impactful student retention programs.

The success of this effort has led to the expansion of the retention program beyond first year students to include the sophomore-junior class and new undergraduate transfers. Over the past six years, the university has set records for retention and for four, five, and six-year graduation rates of first-time freshmen. These improvements in undergraduate retention from 2011 levels have generated (and will continue to generate) at least $18 million in additional tuition and fees revenue for the university over the life of those freshman cohorts.

Matt also leveraged the platform far beyond predictive modeling to work with greater efficiency and take on new projects for the university. For example, during Lipscomb’s process of reaffirmation of accreditation with SACSCOC in 2017, Matt was able to produce reports on credit hours taught for all of Lipscomb’s 300+ academic programs in two days by using the Veera platform—an incredible time savings compared to the two months that it took Matt to prepare similar reports in 2012. Matt also worked with the Registrar’s Office to redesign the process of generating official counts. A process that used to involve hours of work and disrupted the workflow of a critical business unit on campus now takes a matter of minutes thanks to the Veera platform.

With the addition of Veera Bridge in 2018, Matt was able to take his work to another level. Even with very limited resources, Matt was able to exponentially increase his service to other departments. Veera Bridge provided an online platform where Matt could share data and reports with Provost Office colleagues, deans, and department heads, enabling them to create their own charts or drill down into the data that mattered most to them. Once the Veera Bridge account was established for Lipscomb University, it was simple for Matt to create new users on the fly and direct them to the platform for intuitive self-service reporting. Matt could also satisfy new program review requests from administrators, allowing them to find answers for themselves without additional intervention from the IR department. Veera Bridge greatly increased the number of decision makers Matt was able to serve—while reducing the number of ad hoc requests he received.

“The Veera platform expanded my ability to say yes to projects—and even gave me the confidence to be proactive and take on new responsibilities.”

The Veera platform has also provided an unexpected benefit for Lipscomb University. As the university transitions from one higher education SIS to another, the Veera platform offers the only consolidated view into both systems until the transition is completed.

But perhaps most importantly, the Veera platform has helped Matt improve communication with other departments and position IR as a trusted, vital source of information on campus. “When I joined Lipscomb University eight years ago, I set out to build bridges with other business units and improve the reputation of the IR department. The Veera platform helped me accomplish this mission. The tool expanded my ability to say yes to projects—and even gave me the confidence to be proactive and take on new responsibilities,” said Matt. “The Veera platform by Rapid Insight has been a game changer for the IR department at Lipscomb University.”

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