By: 
Marcia Layton Turner
Honoree: 
Paul Smith’s College

Student retention has been a focus at Paul Smith’s College in upstate New York for several years.

Administrators had routinely monitored the performance of students who were deemed “at-risk”—those who had been conditionally admitted, had relatively low high school grades and SAT scores, or who were enrolled in a major with a higher-than-average percentage of struggling students.

These efforts failed because “both high- and low-risk students can find themselves in trouble during the semester,” says Loralyn Taylor, registrar and director of institutional research.

Five years ago, officials discovered problems with communication and the flow of information between faculty and student support offices. Faculty felt pressure to lower their grading standards to hold on to every student. The Comprehensive Student Support Program that was created made it clear that faculty should keep their standards high and instead rely on student support services to bolster outcomes.

To facilitate better information sharing and collaboration between faculty and student services, the college implemented a system of proactive and reactive success strategies. These included a faculty survey using Starfish Retention Solutions Early Alert.

The four-question survey involves checking an online box if faculty have a concern related to: 1) missed work, 2) poor attendance, 3) social/personal issues or 4) low grades. The system automatically identifies and prioritizes students for outreach and notifies their advisors and support staff.

Ninety-nine percent of faculty completed the early alert survey during the fall 2014 semester.

“Our goal is to get the right support to the right students at the right time to make a difference,” says Taylor.

It’s already working. In the first year, retention of sophomores into junior year increased from 62 percent to 74 percent. The percentage of students on probation or suspension at the end of the semester has dropped. And on-time graduation rates for associate and bachelor degrees is up significantly.

“We want to increase student success for all groups,” says Taylor.