How data science is making college education available to all in US

24 Nov 2016

Alex Bernadotte, founder of Beyond 12. Still from ‘College shouldn’t be out of reach, wherever you’re from’. Image: Inspirefest HQ/YouTube

Alex Bernadotte, founder of Beyond 12, spoke at Inspirefest 2016 about channelling citizens through the education system. Is it really a closed shop, or can kids from lesser-income areas succeed?

In the US, only 8pc of students from the lowest income quartile can expect to earn a bachelor’s degree by their mid-20s, versus 82pc from the highest income quartile. Alex Bernadotte, quite rightly, is appalled by that.

“Think of the gap; think about what that means in terms of potential, or lost potential, for the students, their families, their communities and the world,” she said.

Beyond 12

Beyond 12 wants to dramatically increase the number of low-income, first-generation and historically under-represented students who graduate from college.

As industries shift towards technology and science, ensuring an adequate flow of graduates is key. If this requirement for more and more talent can be used to encourage the spread of people attending colleges and universities, all the better.

Neither of Bernadotte’s parents had been to university, but they were sure she needed to break that mould. Knuckling down and getting accepted to Dartmouth, an Ivy League institution in the US, Bernadotte thought she had finally made it, and her family thought the hard part was done.

“Boy, were we wrong,” she said. “I struggled the first year at university. I struggled academically, financially, socially, emotionally … and I quickly discovered that getting the acceptance letter was only the first step.”

Through family support, personal dedication and the help of a particular mentor, Bernadotte ensured her story had a happy ending.

Now Bernadotte – a fellow with Ashoka, an organisation encouraging social entrepreneurs – is trying to ensure others achieve the same.

“There is a significant disconnect between our lower education system and our higher education system,” she said. The impact of this is a major drop in students going from high school to university.

Beyond 12 works with 40,000 students, but its role with the actual system is key to Bernadotte. It acts as a data and service bridge between both high school and college. It provides students with coaching, feedback and programmes to help prepare for college.

With data-heavy analytics, schools are kept up to speed on their students’ “college ready” reality, allowing educational institutions to adapt accordingly.

Using an alumni tracker tool, Beyond 12 provides case notes on students, reports, communication tools and other services to allow greater management of student flows.

“We identify the students who are in most need of help and match them with virtual college coaches,” she said. “Our coaches are recent college graduates, the majority of which were the first in their families to go to college.”

Through this coaching, teaching schools how to improve, and genuine hard work, the figures in the US are changing.

Data and technology are helping to turn the tide.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Book now to get half-price Super Early Bird tickets before prices go up on 15 December.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic