The elements that we learned and shared in our first article in this series represent best practices to organizing and sustaining an institution’s student success effort:

  • Cross-functional teams are a must. While the specific makeup of the team will vary according to the needs of an institution, our recommendation to the grantees was for a core team of no more than eight individuals representing the key areas working on or impacted by the technology-enabled advising reform. These roles should be on the team:
    • Project Leader: sees the full picture of the work, both the vision and goals and also the detail that is required for effective internal communications.
    • Communications Expert: has a deep knowledge of the institution’s student success work and is heavily involved in or leading the communication of that work.
    • Information Technology (IT) Director or his/her representative: able to help the team communicate the benefits of the new technologies and aid those responsible for training by giving them a sense of areas where new users will need help.
    • Administrator Responsible for Advising: knows the current advising and planning processes and policies and how the technology-enabled reforms will impact these.
    • Advisor(s): can help explain exactly how the reforms will affect advisors and students, giving the rest of the team a stronger grip on those core audiences.
    • Faculty: can represent the perspective of a core stakeholder group that is being asked to alter their behaviors or processes.
    • Institutional Research Representative: can help to evaluate the progress toward technology-assisted advising reform goals.
    • Student(s): will help to ensure the buy-in essential to successful adoption of the new technology and processes and will assist the team’s planning for communications and training.
  • Leadership is key. The institutions that have been most successful in working toward their vision have identified, named, and charged a leader for their student success transformation. Leadership at all levels is important, and having direct access to and real support from the institution’s president provides the strongest possible backing for a reform effort. We have witnessed new titles emerging for those charged to lead this work: Vice President of Student Success, Vice Provost for Student Success, Dean of Retention and Completion, Assistant Vice President of Student Success. Involved and participatory leadership is key: The buck should stop in one place so that the institution knows who is leading and where to go to get support. At institutions that have been especially strong in this area, top leadership includes the message of student success in their own messaging. For instance, see this newsletter from Middle Tennessee State University President Sidney McPhee, which places technology-enabled student success reforms clearly in the context of the institution’s vision. Dr. McPhee’s newsletter always has an update and a callout to the student success work, keeping it at the forefront.
  • Set a vision and communicate it often, and in multiple ways. Communicating WHY in order to build buy-in is critical, as is communicating HOW in order to get stakeholders to understand the ways in which parts of the work tie together. Often there are so many developments happening under the label “student success” that those involved experience the phenomenon known as initiative fatigue. In this graphic representation, the University of Central Florida connected their initiatives under a broader vision of student success:

  • Measure often and refine based on what is learned. The most successful institutions collected their metrics, analyzed their results, and “wondered why:” that is, they did not seek to blame any lack of success on particular individuals, but refined the processes to continue the work. Here are some of the practices we recommend for measurement and analysis:
    • First, measure adoption. It is important to determine, early on, that the targeted users are actually adopting the new technology, new processes, and new procedures. Only then will it be possible to measure results.
    • Measure early results. For instance, are students making appointments with their advisors more often after a campaign encouraging them to do so?
    • Of course institutions are seeking positive changes in major metrics such as persistence, retention, and graduation. To see these top-level indicators move in the right direction, the team will need to analyze early results and refine the processes or areas that could be affecting them.
    • We recommend consulting the “Refinement and Scaling” section of the Rollout and Adoption Guide described earlier for tools to support these efforts.
  • Celebrate! For a key effort such as improving student success, it is important to maintain momentum over the long haul. One important part of doing so is by hailing milestones as they occur, giving positive reinforcement to everyone involved. We’ve seen several institutions use celebration to generate further enthusiasm for their reform:
    • University of Texas at San Antonio: UTSA maintains and regularly updates a web page containing slide decks, images, and videos of all their events over several years that are related to technology-enabled advising reform.
    • Northeast Wisconsin Technical College: NWTC uses a mascot representing an early alert software product, Starfish, to build buy-in. The mascot visits with faculty that are participating in the Early Alert, celebrating their results and spreading the energy across campus.
    • Morgan State University: During their initial implementation of a student success system, MSU offered a public report to faculty on how far they had come with training and initial usage of the early alert system Starfish. The report included this representation of their success:

Using information like this to communicate results widely to key stakeholders in the institution helps to build appreciation for the positive changes going on.

About the Author:

Nancy Millichap has worked for EDUCAUSE since 2011 in support of three initiatives with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Each program involved uses new technologies in combination with collaboration and process change to improve outcomes for undergraduate students, particularly those from low-income households and underrepresented groups.

As director for professional learning, Ana Borray, MA leads a team that is responsible for the EDUCAUSE Institute and all other face-to-face programs that support the professional development of higher education IT professionals. Ana joined EDUCAUSE in 2015 to lead the efforts of the IPASS grant that focuses on student success initiatives to drive an increase in completion rates for all students pursuing a higher education credential.


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