Use a Toolkit Approach Rather Than a Turnkey Solution
“Student success” as a buzzword in academic circles has become almost as over-hyped as MOOCs just a few years ago. This has occurred for some good reasons, as completion rates have dropped to precariously low levels.
Not only are there political and societal pressures to make significant improvements in this area, but there is now also a fiscal pressure as a number of performance-based funding models measure performance metrics around completion and retention.
While increased advising and mentoring can play a significant role in improving outcomes and increasing retention rates, there is no question that technology – especially predictive analytics and student engagement – is a major component in improving retention and graduation rates. These tools can provide information to faculty and advisors to ensure that the right interventions are taking place with the right students at the right time.
Further, technology tools – especially student engagement or customer relationship management technologies – can automate interventions by leveraging the communication channels relevant to today’s students and at a speed that cannot be duplicated by purely human interventions. What is also clear from the data is that early interventions – even before the student initiates study at the institution – are critical, as data from the student’s high school years can be strong indicators of who will be at-risk.
The education technology landscape is filled with start-ups and a few mature companies that tout student success solutions. Many of these are “black-boxes” into which institutions pour data from a variety of structured and unstructured sources, and “results” are returned to the institution. I would argue, however, that success indictors and metrics – while sharing some commonality across the higher education landscape – are also very specific to the institutional culture, region of the country, demographic mix of the institution, etc. Therefore, a toolkit approach (vs. a turnkey solution) is the best practice for developing retention solutions.
It is a myth that only well-off universities with deep analytics and data science expertise can pull this off. As evidence, I recommend studying the work at Valdosta State University. Their approach – thoroughly documented and tested using rigorous statistical models – has resulted in marked improvement in graduation and retention.
Cole Clark is the Global Vice President for Education and Research at Oracle Corporation. In his current role, Cole is responsible for providing strategic planning and strategy execution support at a global level in terms of overall Education & Research solutions, including applications, technology and hardware.
Keep it Simple with 3 Ps
Analysts in higher education are overcomplicating retention and graduation problems. I’m going to keep it super simple, so simple in fact that there’s an acronym mnemonic device to help remember it: The 3 Ps of Success™.
For many, college graduation is a challenging goal, and like any challenging goal, people are more likely to accomplish it when they have the 3 Ps: 1) a clear purpose to motivate hard work 2) a support network of people and 3) a credible pathway (including the degree) to prepare to accomplish that purpose.
If students are failing, you simply have to analyze why in context of the 3 Ps.
Purpose. How many of your students really know what their degree plan means for them and which ones don’t know? Of those that claim to know, do they really, or do they just have a good story? If you, the educator, don’t know what they’re going to college for and why it matters to them, how will you help them? Why should they trust that the hard work will pay off if it’s not connected to any motivating purpose?
People. Which of your students have a strong personal support network of mentors from home, school, or work? Which have positive peer relationships and have a real sense of belonging at your institution? Which have professional guides and strong relationships with their faculty advisors? If you don’t know, you have no hope of helping them fill in the gaps and reach higher.
Path. Which of your students feel like they’re on track to reach their goals? Do they truly believe that if they graduate, their chances will be better? Do they see themselves as masters of their own destiny, shaping their path? How many do, how many don’t, and which are which?
This obviously seems like common sense.
But schools don’t have access to any reliable insights into which students have the 3 Ps and which do not. And if you don’t know, how can you possibly help? Like they said at the end of every GI Joe Cartoon from my youth “Knowing is half the battle.” And the other half is taking action to get your students what they need to be successful.
Gunnar Counselman is CEO and Founder of Fidelis Education, a pioneer in Learning Relationship Management, as well as a father, husband, and avid surfer.