Way to be wildly innovative, IBM.

In your whitepaper, Taking the Guesswork out of Student Retention, you highlight the benefits of using IBM SPSS to predict and improve student retention. SPSS, first introduced as Statistical Package for Social Science and later changed to Statistical Product and Service Solutions, was first released in 1968. Granted, IBM paid 1.2 billion to purchase the company in 2009, so maybe it is just new to them. Anyone close to my age who attended graduate school will remember the pain and suffering of using SPSS and will probably agree with my assertion that IBM is going to have a tough time convincing us that their product is now user friendly and can help us with retention.

student dropout ratesTake a close look at the whitepaper. Start with the title, Taking the Guesswork out of Student Retention. You might infer from this bold title that SPSS has found a solution for retention issues. If true, this could help every institution in the world; who doesn’t want better retention? Yet the document doesn’t contain any evidence to support the claim that SPSS has improved retention. The first example from an implementation at Baruch College quotes the following:

Using IBM SPSS software, the college was able to better integrate data across all units. This led to a 7.1 increase in applications to its business school – when other schools were seeing sharp decreases – and a 21 percent annual increase in transfer students. Baruch also used IBM SPSS technologies to improve the placement of freshman in introductory courses, which significantly reduced drop outs.

Call me silly, but for a company that sells statistical software to use the words  “significantly reduced” is like the Pope saying sin is “kind of bad.” If they had claimed that “retention rose 22% over last year” or that the “college realized a net increase in total revenue by $200,000,” I may have been able to buy it.  But an increase in applications? What does that have to do with retention?

The next example is of SPSS being used at American Public University. I know APU’s Vice President of Research and Development, Dr. Phil Ice, personally. He has done amazing work using predictive analytics. I also know that APU has done more than just “predict with 80 percent certainty at what point a given student is likely to drop out.”  For IBM to simply stop the story there without further discussing the amazing outcomes at APU is a slap in the face to Phil and his team, simply for the benefit of a marketing promo piece. If I were Phil, or the president of APU, I would be perturbed with IBM for publishing this assertion that their product was the primary reason for retention success, a fact the whitepaper fails to mention.

IBM, your public relations firm missed the mark with this obvious MARKETING ploy. My advice to you is to reconsider your entry into a market as an effort to repay that 1.2 billion dollar purchase of SPSS until you are 100% sure that you know how that market operates. I am left wondering if your software could have predicted just how far off the mark you are on this endeavor, from a statistically relevant perspective, of course.

Another interesting IBM factoid: In 1943, IBM chairman Thomas Watson said “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

Now it’s your turn to tell me what you think about this? Share below, or tweet me @eduKanCEO.

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