UH Hilo CoBE data science students use machine learning to predict college completion

Friday, May 29, 2020, 5:17am by

On May 8, Hawai‘i Data Science Institute (HIDSI) of University of Hawai‘i, in collaboration with the Hawai‘i EPSCoR Ike Wai Project, hosted a virtual poster session showcasing student research. Students published a variety of studies spanning areas such as artificial intelligence, deep learning, and data visualization.

UH Hilo College of Business and Economics students Patricia Samantha Orozco and Noelani Gonzalez-Villanueva (College of Business and Economics) presented their work “Predicting Success in College: A Network-Based Machine Learning Approach.” The project, done under the guidance of Dr. Sukhwa Hong of the College of Business and Economics, aimed to develop a data-driven machine learning algorithm to predict students’ graduation.

The team found that factors such as high school GPA, SAT scores, writing intensive courses taken, and grades received, display a structure that is similar to that of a sentence structure. With this structure the team was able to predict the probability of a student’s projected graduation using similarities with past student data. In runs on test data, the model was able to predict the actual student outcome in around 95% of cases.  With more data about courses taken, predictions could be made even more accurate.


Data science can be a powerful and effective tool to solve problems in the fields such as management, marketing, finance, accounting, and tourism. During the presentation, participants discussed the ethical implications of letting students know their predicted probability of success.

“My biggest takeaway from this experience is the fact that I was able to learn more in-depth about data analysis and the achievements one can do with it,” said Noelani Gonzalez-Villanueva, one of the four ‘Ike Wai scholars who presented at the session.

HIDSI is a UH systemwide effort to support data science education, collaborative research and partnerships with the industry. The nearly 80 participants included educational institutions such as Honolulu Community College, UH Maui College, Chaminade University, University of California Irvine, and Stanford University; local organizations such as Conservation International Hawaiʻi and First Hawaiian Bank; and government agencies including the U.S. Department of Defense and the State of Hawaiʻi.