By: 
Marcia Layton Turner
Honoree: 
Valdosta State University

When the governor says his goal is to graduate 250,000 more students by 2020 and that your university needs to play a major role, any higher ed leader would sit up and take notice.

As part of the statewide Complete College Georgia program, Valdosta State University committed to improving its own retention rate, which was 66 percent in 2011.

One of the linchpins of the Complete College Georgia program was using data and analytics to identify students at risk of not graduating. But at Valdosta, data was in short supply, says Brian Haugabrook, chief information officer.

“We didn’t have a data warehouse or a business intelligence [system] or even an enterprise reporting solution at the time,” says Haugabrook. So a team was put together from the IT and institutional research departments to develop one.

Choosing Oracle as a platform, administrators integrated five technologies into one system that could extract information and deliver it to custom applications designed to serve students.

One such system is the Valdosta Student Portal, which Haugabrook likens to Amazon.com in how it customizes content based on what the system knows about the student. Where Amazon might suggest a book or CD based on recent purchases, Valdosta’s portal offers ads for services that the system knows should be relevant to the student’s education.

Success Data Points

  • 4% overall student retention rate increase between 2011 and 2013
  • 6% increase in number of student credit hours earned
  • 5% increase in pass rates in all courses
  • 5% increase in pass rates of introductory courses

“If a faculty member in math has flagged you for having difficulty in their course, you’ll see an ad that says, ‘Hey, we’ve got free math tutoring. Click right here to sign up now,’ ” says Haugabrook says. More than half of the ads are academic-related, while others are operational or event-related.

Similarly, the system gives faculty much more than a simple class roster at the start of the semester. They can see photos of their students, as well as risk metrics indicating who is more likely to struggle.

If a student does poorly on a test or skips class, the system alerts that student’s on-campus support system, including their advisor, the Student Success Center, the residence hall director and—if the student plays a sport—the athletic coordinator.

This early alert system was key to improving Valdosta students’ performance, says Haugabrook.

“We’re improving at-risk metrics to immediately predict when a student is likely to go off-track,” he says. “We called [the effort] ‘Actionable Intelligence’ because if you don’t know how to take action, the data is meaningless.”