National Institute on Aging

Universities Use Software That Assigns Race as a High Impact Predictor of Student Success or Failure

Colleges and universities have made concerted efforts in recent years to increase retention and graduation rates in order to boost their rankings, attract more students, and grant more degrees. Improvements in these numbers can boost state appropriations for some public colleges and universities.

A new study by The Markup has found that major universities are using a software program from EAB to predict a student’s probability of success or failure in college. One factor that is included in some universities’ predictive model reports is race.

The study found that more than 500 universities across the country use risk algorithms to evaluate their students. The Markup‘s analysis found “large disparities in how the software treats students of different races, and the disparity is particularly stark for Black students, who were deemed high risk at as much as quadruple the rate of their White peers.”

The danger here is that when Black students are determined to be at a high risk of failure, their academic advisers may steer them away from more difficult fields of study such as STEM disciplines.

Hannah Quay-de la Vallee, a senior technologist who studies algorithms in education at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., told The Markup that “using race for any kind of system, even if it’s in a very narrow context of trying to end racial disparities in higher education, you can go into that with the best of intentions and then it takes very, very few steps to get you in place where you’re doing further harm.”

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