Search EdWorkingPapers

Are Algorithms Biased in Education? Exploring Racial Bias in Predicting Community College Student Success

Predictive analytics are increasingly pervasive in higher education. However, algorithmic bias has the potential to reinforce racial inequities in postsecondary success. We provide a comprehensive and translational investigation of algorithmic bias in two separate prediction models -- one predicting course completion, the second predicting degree completion. Our results show that algorithmic bias in both models could result in at-risk Black students receiving fewer success resources than White students at comparatively lower-risk of failure. We also find the magnitude of algorithmic bias to vary within the distribution of predicted success. With the degree completion model, the amount of bias is nearly four times higher when we define at-risk using the bottom decile than when we focus on students in the bottom half of predicted scores. Between the two models, the magnitude and pattern of bias and the efficacy of basic bias mitigation strategies differ meaningfully, emphasizing the contextual nature of algorithmic bias and attempts to mitigate it. Our results moreover suggest that algorithmic bias is due in part to currently-available administrative data being less useful at predicting Black student success compared with White student success, particularly for new students; this suggests that additional data collection efforts have the potential to mitigate bias.

algorithms, algorithmic bias, predictive analytics, college success, machine learning, ,
Education level
Document Object Identifier (DOI)

EdWorkingPaper suggested citation:

Bird, Kelli A., Benjamin L. Castleman, and Yifeng Song. (). Are Algorithms Biased in Education? Exploring Racial Bias in Predicting Community College Student Success. (EdWorkingPaper: 23-717). Retrieved from Annenberg Institute at Brown University:

Machine-readable bibliographic record: RIS, BibTeX