Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh.

By Jamie Schuman

A Green Tree startup is using artificial intelligence to help students succeed in college.

Othot‘s software is designed to improve the admissions process, increase student retention and graduation rates and boost job placement. Its newest product uses data and machine learning to identify students who are at risk of dropping out, the reasons why, and what schools can do to help them.

“It’s all about optimizing the student’s situation,” says Andy Hannah, co-founder of Othot, which specializes in artificial intelligence and analytic solutions for colleges and universities. “We want that student to graduate, and with as low a debt as possible.”

The Othot platform is a cloud-based software that can be accessed 24 hours a day from a web browser. (Othot derives its name from combining “original” and “thought.”)

It uses a large variety of data points, such as a student’s high school and college grades, financial circumstances and co-curricular activities, as well as census numbers and other information, to understand people at “a very deep level,” Hannah says.

Andy Hannah, co-founder of Othot

The software can predict if a student will struggle academically and suggest ways to help them succeed. Administrators may get suggestions to increase a student’s financial aid or when to start academic counseling.

The University of Pittsburgh uses Othot’s AI-driven recommendations to help students choose study abroad programs, which are important for student retention, says Stephen Wisniewski, Pitt’s vice provost for data and information.

“We know that an engaged student is more likely to persist and at a much higher rate,” Wisniewski says. “Study abroad programs at Pitt are a centerpiece of that measure of engagement.”

Othot has worked for the past year and a half to develop its student retention tool, and Pitt is one of a handful of universities already using it. The company is now ready to roll out the product more broadly, Hannah says.

Hannah says the tool is useful because as college costs increase, administrators have a duty to make sure that students succeed and graduate. And as enrollments are projected to decrease in coming years due to lower birth rates, universities will compete against each other to recruit and retain freshmen, he says.

Hannah says the new tool is “incredibly accurate” because it uses a nonlinear model, which looks at the relationship between thousands of variables, whereas other products may focus predominantly on grades.

“We are in a different era related to the use of technology and the understanding of the individual,” Hannah says. “It’s just refreshing to me to see that power being used to help students reach their desired endpoints, which is graduating and getting great jobs with debt that they can manage.”

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