It costs much more to recruit new students than to keep the ones you have, which is why retention is so important to colleges and universities.
With a 67 percent one-year retention rate costing $6.5 million in lost revenue annually, Valdosta State University (Ga.) officials knew they had to act. The problem was data that could have helped identify remedies were sorely lacking, and what little information the institution possessed was difficult to access and analyze.
“You could get a course list and a list of students in your class,” says Brian Haugabrook, director of Valdosta’s data warehouse, “but you didn’t know much more about them—how they were doing, what high school they went to—basic information to help faculty be more effective.”
“Once you knew there was a problem,” adds Andy Clark, associate vice president for enrollment management, “you couldn’t dig in and find out where the [underlying] problems were.”
Haugabrook, Clark, and their colleagues didn’t have to look far to find a solution. Valdosta State already was supporting its Banner student information system with Oracle Database. Many of its programmers were comfortable with Oracle, and thanks to a license through the statewide higher education system, Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition was an easy choice.
Within weeks, Haugabrook and his team were able to build and deploy a customized application to drill down into the database. He estimates that without Oracle, that process would have taken up to a year. Faculty now have many more data-rich resources at their disposal and are able to track their students’ progress with greater precision.
“It gave us the speed and flexibility to get data out quickly,” Haugabrook notes.
According to Clark, the university used years of student data—standardized test scores, high school grade-point averages and more—to develop a predictive model of performance. Students likely to struggle in certain areas according to the model are flagged in the system so their instructors can keep a closer eye on their grades and notify academic support and student affairs services if help is needed.
“We call it actionable intelligence,” Clark says. “We’re asking the faculty to take actions with regard to their students. We’ve put together a packaged intervention strategy, and we’re constantly improving that.”
Prior to implementing its Oracle solution, VSU took up to three weeks to process data requests from faculty and administrators; that has been cut, in most cases, to a day or less. Haugabrook estimates a fivefold increase in administrative efficiency.
As for the big question—Does retention improve as a result?—it’s tough to tell so far, since the new system went online only last summer. But students’ 10 percent to 15 percent improvement in midterm and final grades last fall augurs well, Clark says. “Every indication is that our retention should climb significantly next fall.”