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Colleges Using Big Data To Recruit New Students More Efficiently

Mark Nootbaar
90.5 WESA

Imagine if companies knew the probability of turning someone into a customer – and keeping that customer.

That’s exactly what Green Tree-based Othot thinks it can do. The start up’s current focus is higher education student recruitment, and Chief Technology Officer John Abbatico said there’s plenty of data to mine.

“There’s the data our customers have,” Abbatico said. “The history they’ve had offering enrollment to students, and either having those students elect to attend or not. But then, there is a massive amount of data out there in the ether, in the internet, social media data. It’s amazing how much data that these kids will disclose about themselves that is publicly available.”

That data is then added into Othot’s model, and the computer spits out a number for each prospective student.

“There’s an art and a science to this,” said Gary Bracken, vice president for enrollment management for Point Park University, which uses the service. “The science is finding the right data and using it well. The art is then finding the students who they think would be a good fit.”

Bracken said students are also measuring the universities and attending open houses, or making campus visits. Othot then puts a numerical value on those visits.

Credit Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Othot continues to work on its user interface.

“For instance, our models will say, ‘This student has a 70 percent chance of coming, but they haven’t done a student visit and if you would have them do a student visit that probability goes up to 78,’” Abbatico said.

He said their tool will even be able to tell a university when to stop courting a student, because they chose another school. 

Othot officials said they see higher education as just a starting point.

“We’re working on the next two verticals right now and they are more in (the research and development) stage,” said Andy Hannah, Othot CEO. “In one, we actually have a first customer.”

When it enters those markets, Othot officials said they expect to not just identify potential customers, but also identify the best potential customer.

“Not every customer is a good customer. Some customers -- you may lose money,” Abbatico said. “You may have two prospects that you have equal likelihood of converting, but you want to go after the one that will, over time, give you the most yield in money.”

The plan is for the entire system to be stored remotely so that Othot’s customers can access the insights as easily from the field as they can from the office and make smarter decisions with more predictable results.

In this week's Tech Report calendar: 

  • Carnegie Mellon Universityhas a new five-year, $12 million grant to try to unlock the secrets of neural circuitry and the brain’s learning methods. The results of the effort to “reverse-engineer the brain” could be used to make artificial intelligence more like human thought.
  • The Carnegie Science Center has established the goal of training 2,000 teachers in STEM teaching practices by the year 2020. The goal is to improve efficacy and retention of educators. It’s part of a national initiative focusing on 100,000 teachers.