Development of a Bayesian Belief Network-based DSS for predicting and understanding freshmen student attrition

Dursun Delen, Kazim Topuz, Enes Eryarsoy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Student attrition – the departure from an institution of higher learning prior to the achievement of a degree or earning due educational credentials – is an administratively important, scientifically interesting and yet practically challenging problem for decision makers and researchers. This study aims to find the prominent variables and their conditional dependencies/interrelations that affect student attrition in college settings. Specifically, using a large and feature-rich dataset, proposed methodology successfully captures the probabilistic interactions between attrition (the dependent variable) and related factors (the independent variables) to reveal the underlying, potentially complex/non-linear relationships. The proposed methodology successfully predicts the individual students' attrition risk through a Bayesian Belief Network-driven probabilistic model. The findings suggest that the proposed probabilistic graphical/network method is capable of predicting student attrition with 84% in AUC – Area Under the Receiver Operating Characteristics Curve. Using a 2-by-2 investigational design framework, this body of research also compares the impact and contribution of data balancing and feature selection to the resultant prediction models. The results show that (1) the imbalanced dataset produces similar predictive results in detecting the at-risk students, and (2) the feature selection, which is the process of identifying and eliminating unnecessary/unimportant predictors, results in simpler, more understandable, interpretable, and actionable results without compromising on the accuracy of the prediction task.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)575-587
Number of pages13
JournalEuropean Journal of Operational Research
Issue number3
StateAccepted/In press - 1 Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Bayesian Belief Network (BBN)
  • Elastic net
  • Imbalance data
  • Prediction
  • Student retention


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