Campus, News

U.S. Department of Education hosts ‘Datapalooza’ for students, educators

As part of President Barack Obama’s agenda to make college more affordable and accessible to American families, the U.S. Department of Education hosted “Datapalooza” Wednesday, where representatives from multiple organizations presented initiatives to help empower students and educators at institutions of higher education such as Boston University.

CEO and Co-founder of the Student Success Academy E.J. Carrion, who spoke at the gathering, recommended increasing the presence of education sources outside of the academic environment in order to encourage focus on college admissions. The Student Success Academy is an online platform that enables students to develop college admissions and financial aid strategies with student counselors over video chat.

“We crowdsource school counseling by training relatable, ambitious university students on the counseling process so they meet with students over the web and video chat,” Carrion said. “ … It’s also focused on social mobility and time management, which are also part of the top five reasons why students drop out of high school.”

Erin Grady, a School of Management freshman, said the online college selection tool used by her high school was helpful in narrowing down college choices.

“My high school had a website called Naviance,” she said. “You could organize colleges by location, number of people, and all that,” Grady said. “Then they gave you statistics about SAT scores and acceptance rates, and then the college links. It was really helpful.”

Christina Allen, a representative for LinkedIn who also spoke at Datapalooza, recommended building a digital network that would enable students, universities and prospective career outlets to interact online.

“What we’re looking at is developing an ecosystem between students, universities and these companies because that’s really the network,” Allen said. “We can’t build networks for students alone because basically they say, ‘We want jobs, and we want an education.’”

This type of network would provide universities with a source for understanding what types of skills companies expect of their future employees, Allen said.

“When you look at universities, they don’t know where their graduates are going,” she said. “They don’t know if they’re inviting the right companies to campus. They don’t have this iterative data, this feedback loop, of whether they’re teaching the right skills.”

Leah Miller, a College of Arts and Sciences junior, said such a database would be helpful in allowing students to receive professional expertise for their inquiries. She said she used a similar platform when choosing where to attend college.

“I remember looking on websites where you could narrow down the size of the school and the location and go from there,” she said.

The discount textbook service Boundless was recommended at the event by its founder and CEO Ariel Diaz as a solution to students who sacrifice high grades to save money by neglecting to order the expensive required textbooks.

“Seven in 10 students have skipped buying an assigned textbook, putting them at a detriment to their success in that course,” Diaz said. “And that’s the problem Boundless set out to solve when we started the company three years ago.”

Boundless utilizes open content and data to provide discounted or free textbooks to students who can not afford the full-priced editions, Diaz said.

Gregory Teicher, a graduate student at BU’s School of Medicine, said some of his peers neglect to purchase textbooks because of the steep prices.

“It would be nice if they [textbooks] were cheaper,” Teicher said. “They seem more expensive than they should be … I was talking to some people, and some of them or on the fence of whether they actually will buy a textbook for the class or not. I know the library usually has one or two copies of each book, but it’s hard to access them if there are a lot of people who need it.”

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