New York

How A.I. Increased the Graduation Rate at John Jay College by 32 Points

Good morning. It’s Wednesday. Today we’ll look at software that lifted the graduation rate at John Jay College to 86 percent. We’ll also find out where the Revolutionary War traitor Benedict Arnold has not been forgotten — or forgiven.

Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Dara Byrne was so surprised by the numbers on graduation rates that she triple-checked them. In two years, the graduation rate at John Jay College had jumped 32 percentage points, to 86 percent.

“It was jaw-dropping,” she said.

Byrne, then the associate provost, credits artificial intelligence — specifically, A.I.-powered software that analyzed things like whether students’ grades were slipping and whether they had signed up for courses that would give them enough credit hours to graduate.

The software generated a “risk score” for every student that told academic advisers which students to concentrate on. “It can be hard to know who requires a little more attention,” said Dana Prieto, one of two academic advisers at John Jay, who explained that students with risk scores that pointed to a chance of dropping out were given extra help, including one-on-one coaching.

Byrne said the A.I. software helped identify roughly 200 students who could benefit most. She was also clear about what the software cannot do: “The A.I. cannot tell us about the student experience and cannot present strategies,” she said. “That’s still always going to be the role of the academic advisers.”

Prieto was clear that the predictions made by the software are secret. “We don’t ever want to tell students they’re at risk of not graduating,” Prieto said. “We keep that to ourselves.” To avoid stigmatizing students, John Jay refers to the score from the software as a “support score.”

John Jay’s experiment with A.I. comes as public universities struggle with graduation rates: Many students who enroll never collect a diploma, and many take longer than six years to do so. New York State has twice as many college dropouts as undergraduates, and lower-income students, who make up a substantial portion of the enrollment at public colleges, are less likely to finish their studies and make it to graduation day.

The state’s public university system is trying another approach to keep students on the path to completing their degrees, using strategies like giving students money for transportation and textbooks. SUNY is expanding a program that has roughly doubled graduation rates for participants at the City University of New York since it was started there 16 years ago. The students commit to full-time study and to regular sessions with academic advisers in return for about $2,000 a year from the transportation stipends and textbook fees, along with tuition assistance and tutoring.

The software used at John Jay was developed by DataKind, a global nonprofit, to be predictive, and takes into account demographics and other variables besides grades and course loads. John Jay officials said that figuring out what to measure was a major part of the project.

Byrne said the A.I. software had been so successful that it would be exported to as many as six other CUNY campuses this fall. Google.org, the charitable arm of Alphabet and its Google subsidiary, underwrote the project through a $1.8 million grant that also covered three other A.I. initiatives by DataKind. Google.org has committed roughly $500,000 for the expansion to the other CUNY schools.

Prieto told me about one success story: The A.I. software had identified a student who had attended John Jay in 2009, had left without getting a degree and had returned in 2021 for part-time course work. “He wanted to get his bachelor’s degree,” she said. “He had struggled through his time at John Jay, and he had struggled supporting his family after the death of his mother.”

She attended his graduation ceremony last spring. When I asked if she would not have found him without the A.I. software, she said, “The data we receive gives me a better connection to our students.”


Weather

Expect sunshine today and a high in the mid-70s. At night, temperatures will dip to a low around 58.

ALTERNATE-SIDE PARKING

In effect until Monday (Yom Kippur).


The latest New York news

Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

Local news

  • Giuliani sued: Rudolph Giuliani, already under criminal indictment and at risk of losing his law license for his effort to keep Donald Trump in office after the 2020 election, is now being sued by his own lawyer over unpaid legal fees.

  • Day care operator charged: Federal prosecutors filed drug charges against the owner of a day care center and a tenant who already face state murder, manslaughter and assault charges in the death of a 1-year-old boy. Investigators found a kilogram of fentanyl in a bag sitting on pieces of a play mat.

  • Migrant shelter deal challenged: A hard-fought deal to use national parkland in Brooklyn for an emergency shelter for migrants is being challenged in court by a bipartisan group of New York lawmakers.

  • Sleepy Hollow shake-up: Residents in the Town of Mount Pleasant, about 30 miles north of New York City, are urging it to change its voting system under a new state law.

  • Practitioner indicted: An unlicensed acupuncturist in Queens punctured a woman’s lungs during a treatment, leading her to pass out on the street and requiring major surgery, according to prosecutors.


Benedict Arnold: Not forgotten, not forgiven

Credit…Bea Oyster for The New York Times

The seaport city of New London, Conn., hasn’t forgiven the infamous Revolutionary War turncoat Benedict Arnold for leading a British raid in September 1781 that left the sky clouded by smoke and dozens of people dead.

So, as one scholar put it, the town that Arnold burned down now burns him in effigy.

Arnold hasn’t been forgotten in New York, either. Next week the New York State Museum in Albany will put a medal on display that was given to one of the three colonials who foiled his treasonous plot to surrender the strategic American fort at West Point, N.Y., to the British.

The effigy-burning is street theater organized by a troupe called Flock Theater to reanimate a New London tradition in early September, around the time Arnold torched the town’s homes and shops. David Calder, who researches street theater and is a senior lecturer at the University of Manchester — in, yes, Britain — said that rather than being “a vindictive, vengeful thing,” the New London event “seems like this very playful, triumphant statement of survival and continuity.”

Arnold had risen to the rank of major general in the colonial army, but as the war slogged on, he fed information to the British. His betrayal crushed George Washington, said Eliot Cohen, the author of “Conquered Into Liberty,” about early American military struggles: “If Arnold could be a traitor, who could we trust?”

That idea swirled through New London before Mayor Michael Passero lit a torch to the Arnold effigy. “This fellow, who we thought was one of us, he turns on us,” said Robert Lecce, who works as a re-enactor at a colonial-era museum in Norwich, Conn., the town where Arnold was born.

As for the medal, Washington presented it to Isaac Van Wart, who with two other New York militiamen captured Major John Andre and exposed what Washington called “the villainous perfidy” of Arnold’s West Point plot. Eventually Andre was hanged; Arnold fled behind British lines.

Van Wart and his fellow militiamen were recognized with medals. The Van Wart medal remained in the family and was the prized possession of a descendant who kept it in a shoe box under her bed. She died in 2020, and it was donated to the museum in February. (Judith Price, the president of the National Jewelry Institute, wrote in 2011 that the other two were stolen from the New-York Historical Society in the 1970s.)


METROPOLITAN diary

Long sleeves

Dear Diary:

I’m about six feet tall and in my early 70s. As long as the wind is not blowing too hard, I’m comfortable going out for a walk in just a light, long-sleeved sport shirt and no coat even when the temperature falls into the low 30s.

It was on just such a cool day that I set out from the Upper West Side to cross Central Park and spend a couple of hours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

As I walked east along 72nd Street, a woman who was probably in her 80s and headed in the opposite direction walked up to me briskly and jabbed her right index finger toward my chest.

“Young man,” she said, “you go right home and put on a jacket.”

— Spencer Karpf

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.


Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Kellina Moore, Amelia Nierenberg and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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