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How Technology Empowers Student Success

Boost retention and maximize outcomes while supporting student success
University Business, September 2014

The intense focus on student success has generated unprecedented pressure for improved retention and completion at institutions across the country and around the globe. At the foundation of an effective student success strategy is harnessing the right technology resources to drive results and positive outcomes. During this web seminar, originally broadcast on July 22, 2014, higher ed administrators shared how they are positively impacting their institutions by implementing student success programs and maximizing outcomes, and revealed the technology they are using to boost retention and completion while minding the unique needs of their student populations.

John Beahm
Executive Director
Jenzabar Foundation

There is an intense focus on student success, retention, persistence, completion rates and accountability at institutions across the country and around the globe. Creating and implementing a strategic plan to achieve student success goals and gaining institution-wide support are vital to this effort, as are having the right tools and technology to support your success strategy. Kim, do you want to share a little about Trine’s retention strategy?

Kim Bennett
Assistant VP of Enrollment Management
Trine University (Ind.)

We started our initial retention strategies in 2001. The message from our president was that retention is every person’s responsibility. We run reports on every student, so those who aren’t registered for any additional semesters, we know who they are and we can reach out to them. We know who is completing and who is not. We have lifetime guarantees in place where we can follow them through on four-year paths.

Beahm: Paul, you’ve worked with many institutions in planning an effective strategy for student success. What are some of the common challenges that you’ve seen?

Paul Gore 
Director of Institutional Analysis
Professor of Educational Psychology
University of Utah

One of the things I’ve seen repeatedly is applying programs that have been shown to be effective, but not necessarily aligning them with the specific needs of students. Aligning the specific resources to the services that you have on campus and deploying those resources at the right time is going to take us a long way in terms of improving our efforts to promote student success. The other thing is getting all of the players on the field, so to speak, in a student success and retention effort. Too often, schools I’ve worked with have faced decisions about acquiring or implementing a new product and they get bogged down in that decision and distracted from the real business, which is how are they going to get the data generated by the system to people who can use it at the right time with the right students?

Beahm: Technology tends to be a foundational element of the most effective student success programs. Harnessing the right technology resources to drive results and positive outcomes can be very powerful, from effective communication and alert methods, to data analytics and predictive modeling. Kim, you’ve had a technology plan for your student success program for quite a while and have been able to achieve some impressive results. How has technology supported your student success programs?

Bennett: We are an office of one, so if we didn’t have the technology, we certainly couldn’t be as efficient as we are in reacting quickly to students. Technology provides a way for us to send information to students at the right time, whether it’s who their advisor is, what registration dates are, when they need to move on campus, and so on.

Beahm: Jim, how have you used technology to further student success on your campus?

James Wiseman 
VP of Enrollment Management
Carroll University (Wis.)

A big thing for us is that technology in and of itself doesn’t retain students. People retain students. But the technology is an enormous tool and advantage. Ultimately, it is a time-management and resource issue in terms of how many people you can impact. I don’t think it would be possible to do what we do without technology to guide us to the right students at the right time. In our old system, the faculty would tell us about a student at a time that was almost always too late for us to provide good answers. With the technology we use today, we can predict which students we need to work with and can be proactive to eliminate problems while there are still good options instead of only bad options. Technology also enables us to keep a record of all of our interactions, and then for us to evaluate the effectiveness of the interactions at the end of the year.

Beahm: Paul, you’ve actually conducted research in the area of strategic use of data in retention. Could you talk about that as well as some of the factors or variables that schools often consider?

Gore: The data and technology provide us with the best guess of who needs what and when they need it. The technology also enables us to disseminate that information to the people who are in a position to make the difference and to retain students. When I talk about the factors that have been shown to help us identify who needs what and when, I break them down into very traditional buckets. One is demographic information. We know ethnicity, gender, districts and if they are first-generation students. We also have academic preparation and potential.

We gather this information using traditional ACT/SAT markers and high school GPA rank, and a lot of two-year colleges are using placement exams such as Accuplacer or Compass to identify a student’s potential to succeed in a particular academic track. I think what most institutions are ignoring are the non-cognitive factors, such as grit, self-efficacy, goal striving, achievement motivation, life complexity, resilience, academic engagement and so forth. The research is clear that these things are incrementally predictive of student outcomes, and these variables are easily measured. If you already have resources on your campus that are designed to help students succeed, then why wouldn’t you take the time and energy to align all of those and use them as the scaffolding for your student success program?

Beahm: One of the areas in which technology really shines is the capability to take institutional data and apply it to create predictive models for student success. Jim, you’ve been successful in using predictive models. What type of modeling is Carroll using to support its retention strategy?

Wiseman: Predictive modeling is the reason we can identify students at the right time. We run a freshman-to-sophomore model and then we run a sophomore-to-graduation model. The predictive model is absolutely critical. That’s how we monitor every student every night, because it changes our score. The better models evolve. Paul has convinced me that the non-cognitive factors we were ignoring are going to contribute greatly to what we do in the future.

Beahm: Paul, do you see any other global trends in terms of student success and how institutions are trying to drive it?

Gore: Where we’re going next is beyond the prediction. No one is happy when we predict accurately who is going to flame out of school. Our job as higher ed professionals is to promote success. So we need to do a better job at linking the prediction models with the prescription. In other words, what is it specifically that a student could benefit from right now based on their particular risk indices and particular situation, and how can we understand how their needs change across time?

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to: www.universitybusiness.com/ws072214

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