Alumna Empowers Universities with Enrollment Analytics

Even as she was completing her bachelor’s degree, Michigan Tech alumna Ashley Kern ’15 ’17 had already set out on an entrepreneurial path. And before she completed an MS in Data Science, in 2016, she started SightLine, a growing market intelligence and predictive analytics consulting firm.

Kern pursued a bachelor’s in geological engineering at Michigan Tech through her junior year, but she wasn’t certain that it was the right career for her. So, she took some time off to think things over, returning home for a semester.

To fill her time, Kern began working on some projects for her father, John Kern, an independent data analysis and research consultant. She started learning how to write computer code and found that she enjoyed it.

“Working with my dad for that time, I discovered that I liked the flexibility of consulting work. I liked problem-solving in a less structured way because you get to do it independently.”

When Kern returned to Michigan Tech the next semester, she changed her major to Mathematics, completing her bachelor’s in just one additional semester.

“Math degrees offer a lot of electives. It was a good degree to switch into without causing too much extra time,” Kern says. “That actually helped me make the decision. I found that I could take some marketing classes, branding, and different things that I felt were important for starting a business. Otherwise, I don’t know that I would have changed my major.”

When Kern completed her bachelor’s degree in 2015, she felt that she needed additional credentials to pursue the kind of entrepreneurial work she now knew she wanted. It was great timing that Michigan Tech had just launched its Master of Science in Data Science degree program.

During her first year as a graduate student, Kern started looking around for some data science consulting work. She enrolled in a SmartStart class at the Smart Zone, Houghton, and “through the grapevine,” Michigan Tech vice president of enrollment John Lehman heard that Kern was looking data science consulting work.

“As VP for enrollment, John is very data-focused, so he really digs in,” says Kern. “He had some complex problems that nobody else was really tackling, and he gave me some tough questions to solve. That was my very first contract in higher education and it all grew from there.”

Today, Kern is the CEO of SightLine, which develops predictive models and data assessments to help universities increase enrollment, retention, and overall net revenue. The company uses machine learning to give schools insight into what kind of aid a school should offer a particular student, and how the school’s financial metrics compare with those at nearby colleges.

SightLine’s chief operating officer is Michigan Tech alumna Erin Thompson ‘02, who joined the company full-time in 2020.

“We’re looking long-term to help small- and medium-sized educational institutions maintain and grow sustainably, and to share new ideas and fresh perspectives,” Kern says. “What our customers repeatedly tell us is that they’ve been working with the same types of predictive analytics and data and education management companies for a long time, and they feel that they’re getting the bottom of the barrel and receiving the same responses and solutions over and over again.

This fall, SightLine will introduce a new solution to help parents understand what they can expect to pay for tuition based on their children’s grades and extracurricular activities, instead of the sticker price posted on a school’s website.

“The goal of the new platform is to make education more accessible and to help with price transparency,” Kern says. “Parents and students don’t always understand the full value of higher education, and especially of specific programs. The new platform will help students and parents make the best investment in their future.”

SightLine began talking with general and tech-specific venture capital groups this summer in a multi-million-dollar fundraising effort. In July, the company was featured in a Crain’s Detroit Business article focused on a small-business boom in the Upper Peninsula.

Kern was pleased to learn about the recent growth of the College of Computing and the Master’s in Data Science during a recent visit to campus. “It’s great to see how it’s growing and evolving and becoming a staple of campus,” she says.

SightLine is nationally certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise and Woman Owned Small Business by the Great Lakes Women’s Business Council, a regional certifying partner of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council.

Visit SightLine’s website at