Not everyone who wants a great career absolutely needs to go to college, especially as the nature of jobs keeps changing. But if your company still gains value from including a degree as a hiring prerequisite, or if you want to go back to school yourself to advance, then pay attention. Colleges aren't messing around anymore when it comes to ensuring they can issue a diploma.

As Jill Barshay and Shasha Aslanian reveal in their work for APM Reports, graduation rates are pathetically low, with only about half of the people who enroll in a college actually earning their degrees. But approximately 1,400 higher education institutions are trying a new approach to up the odds of finishing--predictive analytics.

The potential is in the numbers.

In essence, just like Netflix uses predictive analytics to figure out which shows you'll probably like, colleges use predictive analytics to find trends in student data that can help them make an educated guess about which students might not complete their programs. Once the colleges know who those students are, professors, counselors, administrators, and other school staff can try to find ways to help that student overcome whatever hurdles are in place.

Predictive analytics lets colleges discover students who are in financial need, so administrators can help them seek grants. It can show professors which students might benefit from tutoring or similar services. And in some cases, it can let a college know that a student might want to shift their degree plan to something they're more likely to finish, carefully looking at which courses transfer over.

At some colleges, the use of predictive analytics help everyone come out on top. The student walks out with a degree they can use and lower debt, and the college makes more money because more students stay enrolled to the very end and improved graduation rates make the school more attractive to future potential students.

Realistic concerns mean approach with caution.

But turning to the technology does have some cons. Critics worry it can build a self-fulfilling prophesy where students no longer believe they have the aptitude to fulfill their original goals. Students might avoid making mistakes that could have guided them to other good opportunities, and when administrators try to point students in a new direction, there's no guarantee the new path is going to match the interests of the student. Predictive analytics also doesn't guarantee that a college will see graduation rates rise. The data gathered can be complicated, and people don't always have a clear picture of what to do with what they find. Success will depend on what administrators do with the information.

How predictive analytics could shift your operations.

But let's assume that a college does get the use of predictive analytics right--many already are. As more students complete programs, employers likely will see an increase in the number of qualified candidates that apply to open positions. While this means you'll have more work sifting through your options, it might improve the odds that you don't have to settle for a so-so hire, or that you don't end up overspending on training. And if students can use their new degrees to land better-paying positions they're well-prepared for and excited about, you might see an uptick in areas like worker satisfaction and retention.

Predictive analytics isn't a fix-all for worker shortages, but it's a great example of how technology is shifting the approach to education in a way that could benefit companies and change expectations for workers. And for employers that are subsidizing or fully funding education programs for those on their payroll, it might help ensure that the investment pays off. Since the success of the technology depends on how you apply it, though, make sure you've got a game plan going in if you want to integrate it yourself.