Tippie Analytics
Thursday, December 7, 2017
By Tom Snee

Bill Staib has five children and a foster daughter, all of whom pretty much ignored the piles of printed college recruiting material they received as high school students.

“One of my daughters got 45 pounds of stuff in the mail and she didn’t look at any of it,” says Staib. Surely, the serial entrepreneur from Iowa City thought, there must be some way that colleges and universities can save time and money by focusing on recruiting only those students who are more likely to be interested in them, instead of sending heaps of mail to students who will never apply.

With a background in technology businesses and data analytics, Staib saw an opportunity for a new venture and set about using his experience to write an algorithm that would help schools narrow their prospects list. His Iowa City–based business, College Raptor, launched in 2014 and works with hundreds of colleges and universities across the country, running the lists of prospect names through the company’s algorithm and identifying those most likely to be interested in their institution and most likely to apply.

“We can help schools determine which students will never go there so they don’t waste money sending things to them,” he says.

Staib and his team have continually refined their algorithm to more accurately predict good matches between school and student, but as College Raptor has grown, he’s had less and less time to work on it. So last year, he came to the Tippie Analytics Cooperative for help. The cooperative is the Tippie College of Business’ analytics conduit for experiential learning, where graduate and undergraduate students studying business analytics and informatics work with businesses and organizations to improve their operations using data mining and analysis.

Michael Altemeier, director of the Tippie Analytics Cooperative, says the group helps build stronger businesses and provides Tippie students with a practical, résumé-building experience to get their career started. Though only in its second year, the cooperative has worked on 24 client-based projects with such local clients as Ruffalo Noel Levitz, Principal Financial Group, Transamerica, and University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and national firms like BMO-Harris financial services and Dallas, Texas–based Paperless Transactions.

“Our clients come from nearly every industry and represent organizations of all sizes, which gives our students a wide variety of practical experiences,” says Altemeier.

Nick Street, professor of business analytics and department executive officer, says recent alumni consistently report that having completed their experiential-learning projects meant they were able to start being productive one the first day of their new jobs.

“The real-world experience that students get through the cooperative makes a real difference for them in the job market,” says Street. “At the same time, we’re providing our corporate partners like College Raptor with access to these amazing student teams, whose combination of technical skills and business understanding can give them new ways to think about problems, along with solid solutions.”

With College Raptor, the students split into two teams of four, each one working to refine the business’ algorithm using the latest technology and reviewing which of the hundreds of data points had more predictive accuracy.

“We were given large data sets, sat in on biweekly meetings, and were told to build something with this,” says Karl Kramer (BBA ’17), who worked on the College Raptor engagement. “It took a lot of intuition, a lot of time speaking with professors, and the use of the analytical skills we’d developed throughout the course of our time at Tippie.”

The project blended real-world experiences with classroom learning and gave him an experience that built on each.

“We ended up having to be very adaptable,” Kramer says. “When we were going in the wrong direction, the client would steer us a different way. And that’s applicable to what I’ll be doing in my career—working with people as well as numbers.”

The students then used information provided from College Raptor clients in previous years to predict which students would apply and enroll, comparing it to the number of students who actually did apply and enroll.

“Their results were more accurate than the model we had been using,” says Staib. The students had come up with a better way to fill in empty sets of data that the clients were unable to provide that would lead to a more accurate match.

Staib is now in the process of incorporating the students’ models into his own to provide a better service for his clients, and he’s looking forward to working with Tippie students on more projects.

“They’ve learned about the latest technologies and models in their classroom work and are helping us stay ahead of our competition,” he says. “They were great to work with. They treated us like a client in a professional environment, and they solved this problem for us.”