The University of Central Florida will be contributing to a groundbreaking effort to use analytics to identify trends that contribute to student success, program momentum, and online course completion.

UCF is a member of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education Cooperative for Education Technologies (WCET), which Tuesday announced it received a $2.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant will expand the cooperative’s work exploring effective uses of big data predictive analytics to improve opportunity and success for low-income and first-generation students. The project is called the Predictive Analytics Reporting Framework (PAR).

The grant will support the expansion of the PAR Framework data set to more than 1 million student records from across 16 member institutions, including UCF. Student data used in the study is stripped of personal and confidential identifying information, but the students’ experiences will aid institutions in creating programs that encourage students to complete college.

The goal of the newly funded research is to validate and extend the PAR Framework data model, data definitions and research and analysis protocols developed by PAR Framework partners during the successful PAR Framework proof of concept demonstration in early 2012.

These implementation efforts will offer institutions easy to understand resources, including reports, dashboards and decision-support tools, to anticipate threats to student achievement, and remove barriers to student success before they become problems.

“WCET members share a belief that great value comes from working together toward shared goals” observed Beth Davis, PAR Framework Project Director. “Each of the institutions participating in PAR has volunteered to contribute institutional information and processes to improve our collective understanding of student success. This means everything from de-identified data to the evaluation and documentation of effective practices that keep students on track. Their willingness to actively contribute to this community of inquiry focused on online learning excellence is inspiring.”

UCF is already a national leader in online learning and in using data to enhance its educational programs, anticipate problems and respond to student needs.

“Data analysis is a powerful way to see trends, anticipate challenges and create innovative solutions,” said Joel Hartman, vice provost for information technologies and resources at UCF. “Working with WCET and the other institutions in this project is an incredible opportunity to use what we’ve learned and work with other leading institutions to make contributions that will help students both at UCF and nationwide.”

Participating institutions include the six founding PAR Framework partner institutions American Public University System, Colorado Community College System, Rio Salado College, University of Hawaii System, University of Illinois Springfield, and the University of Phoenix. They also include ten institutional partners: Ashford University, Broward College, Capella University, Troy University, Lone Star College System, Penn State World Campus, Sinclair Community College, UCF, University of Maryland University College, and Western Governors University.

“PAR is a great example of the academy at work,” said Mark David Milliron, Chancellor of WGU Texas, and longtime advocate of the use of analytics in education. “It’s a diverse group of tough-minded educators willing to share data, ask hard questions, explore new ideas, and work together toward a common goal of helping more students succeed.”

The WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) is a cooperative, membership-driven, non-profit provider of solutions and services that accelerate the adoption of effective practices and policies, advancing excellence in technology-enhanced teaching and learning in higher education.