Watch: NCAN Members Talk Student Outcomes at World's Largest Tech Conference

November 3, 2017

By Kim Szarmach, Communications Intern

Austin Buchan, CEO of College Forward, and Avalon Baldwin, Data Management & Evaluation Associate at 10,000 Degrees, will show more than 100,000 tech professionals how artificial intelligence can keep low-income and first-generation students on track to graduate college at Salesforce's international conference, Dreamforce, on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

"I think there's a lot of hoopla and buzz-wordiness when it comes to artificial intelligence and predictive analytics," Buchan said. "It's just kind of this new shiny thing that people get excited about. But for us, it's not about building cool stuff, it's about better servicing students." 

The largest technology conference in the world takes place Monday through Thursday in San Francisco, but Dreamforce will live-stream the NCAN members’ product keynote address on Tuesday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. PT at this link. Later, the video will be posted on YouTube.

College Forward used the Salesforce platform to develop its own data collection and analytics system, CoPilot, which can track the entire “life cycle” of their students through college applications, enrollment and graduation. CoPilot is now available for purchase on Salesforce's app store, and it's being used by 40 college access organizations across 20 states. 10,000 Degrees is one of these organizations.

Now, CoPilot is the first program on the Salesforce AppExchange to have the company's new "Einstein" product involved. Einstein is an artificial intelligence tool that will use the data collected by CoPilot to predict the outcomes of the students it serves. CoPilot will be able to use this new technology to predict students' needs before they become crises. 

Einstein can flag students predicted to face certain challenges – for example, non-matriculation – so the advisors or mentors at any organization using CoPilot can then to give those students the help they need. (Einstein is currently in testing and is not yet widely available.)

"Hopefully once we get this thing really cranking we'll be able to scale up our organization quicker because we'll be engaging with our students in a smarter way, making sure we're not just providing a one-size-fits-all service to our students, but that it’s very tailored to where they are," Buchan said.

Buchan and Baldwin say promoting CoPilot and Einstein at Dreamforce isn't just exciting from a technological perspective, it’s an important opportunity to talk about the disproportionately low graduation rates of low-income students, and how that can be changed.

"I see this as an opportunity to shed light on the problem we're trying to solve," Buchan said. "I've been pretty adamant that the content of our speech will include some data points to get people fired up about this problem."

Baldwin is a first-generation college student herself, who came from a low-income background. She was served by 10,000 Degrees during high school and college. After graduating, she received a fellowship from 10,000 Degrees and now works there full-time. She and Buchan think adding her perspective to the keynote address will show Salesforce customers why the work college access organizations are doing is so important and why equipping these organizations with new technology would allow more students to succeed, like Baldwin has. 

Buchan said it's up to non-profit organizations to continue developing and taking advantage of new technology that can help serve students more efficiently. 

"I really believe the for-profit sector is not necessarily the best-equipped to solve this problem," he said. “No one else is going to do this and we have to step up our game. I don't want the historical confines of what people think non-profits can and can't do to hold us back."

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