Laude needed to figure out exactly which students needed help. It was one thing to identify the students who might struggle in a five-hundred-person chemistry class. Laude was now responsible for the entire freshman class –more than seven thousand students. He conscripted a team of data scientists in the university’s office of institutional research who specialized in predictive analytics. By deconstructing the records of tens of thousands of recent UT students, they were able to develop a statistical model that combined fourteen separate variables, from family income to SAT score to high school class rank to parents’ educational background into a single algorithm that could reliably predict an incoming student’s likelihood of on-time graduation. They called this new tool the Four-Year Graduation Rate Dashboard.
One of the first students to arrive in Buis’ office on a mild morning in March, just after spring break, was Nicolas, a thin, soft-spoken, sharply dressed freshman with a sweep of sandy blond hair. When Buis opened his file on her screen, a big rec circle popped up that read “Predicted risk level: High!”
Early in 2012, a young researcher named David Yeager was hired by the psychology department at the University of Texas as an assistant professor. Yeager had just earned his PhD from Stanford, where he had worked closely with Walton and Cohen, and hw as steeped in this new body of research and this new approach to intervention. Up until that point, the experiments Yeager and Walton and Cohen had tried were all relatively small in scale. But soon after Yeager arrived at UT, he was approached by administrators who asked him if he might beable to create an intervention that could be given to all seven-thousand-plus members of the next incoming freshman class...
For students whose parents had gone to college, the intervention didn't make any difference -- perhaps because they didn't have as much belonging anxiety in the first place. But for first-generation and other disadvantaged students, there was a small but distinct impact of encountering the "it gets better" messages...
- The Inequality Machine