EdTech Hero: Rick Sluder pioneers predictive analytics in Tennessee


Rick Sluder has devoted his attention in recent years to identifying and intercepting at-risk college students.

When he moved from Missouri to Tennessee three years ago, Sluder began implementing a data analytics system at Middle Tennessee State University, where he serves as vice provost for student success.

The system, which uses predictive analytics to “transform advising,” tracks three or four characteristics known to indicate that a student’s academic performance is getting off track: declining grade point average, the presence of multiple “C” grades on a transcript and acquiring an F in a course.

These clues tell Sluder and his team of about 80 advisers when it’s time to reach out to students and connect them with additional tutoring or assistance.

The system really works.

Four years ago, MTSU’s first-year retention rate was at 68 percent. In fall 2016, it was up to 76 percent — the highest rate of retention in the institution’s history.

“Eight percentage points — that’s amazing,” Sluder said in an interview with EdScoop.

The work is funded through one of 26 iPASS (integrated planning and advising for student success) grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, administered by EDUCAUSE.

“Rick has been the most outstanding person I have seen in this work since I started,” Ana Borray, EDUCAUSE’s director of iPASS implementation services, told EdScoop. “He’s definitely a pioneer in [predictive analytics].”

“He’s very focused and very outcome oriented, like ‘Yes, we are going to leverage this tool,” Borray added. “But he’s giving a purpose to the technology as opposed to using the technology as just a tool. He’s just at it, he doesn’t give up.”

Read more from EdScoop’s series “EdTech Heroes: 25 State Leaders Making a Difference.”