How iPASS worked in supporting student success—The two sides of the coin: technology & people

For the last five plus years, several dozen institutions have been working on student success efforts

Increasing student success has moved high on the priority list at many institutions of higher education in the last five plus years. In their latest articulation of their vision, institutions have framed specific outcomes in student success. They have issued calls to action to measurably improve the institutional capability to help students complete their education. These student success efforts are long-term commitments on the part of an institution and should not be seen as “initiatives” or “projects” that can be completed within a year—or even two or three. To be effective in helping students complete what they have started, a student success approach must be ongoing and multi-faceted.

For the last five plus years, several dozen institutions have been working on student success efforts in a movement referred to as iPASS, which has been funded by grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The acronym stands for “Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success,” a concept also popularly called technology-enabled advising. In simple English it involves leveraging technology in support of advising transformation that in turn supports students in a more holistic way to achieve their goals.

IPASS has focused on three main areas: Degree Planning, Coaching and Advising, and Early Alert and Risk Targeting.

In addition to a very strong emphasis on transforming the way advising is done on campuses, which has been no simple task, the technology-enabled advising approach has propelled institutions to deploy the following technologies:

  • Degree planning tools – systems that provide students with a “road map” that will guide them toward completion of their degree or credential, showing them the requirements and allowing them to explore options that are most likely to foster completion.
  • Early alert or risk targeting systems that can issue a warning as soon as a student is in trouble and help streamline communications not only with the student, but also across the campus and its multiple departments, helping keep everyone involved connected to the student’s issues and progress.
  • Analytics tools to help with assessing what interventions are working, and the progress being made. In many cases, these tools involve using predictive analytics that support even more sophisticated analysis of students the institution can assist, as well as course patterns and programs that may be especially helpful for the student.

The institutions that have been integrating a technology-enabled advising approach have for the most part successfully deployed some of these technologies, and in some cases all of these technologies, yet all is not magically solved. It is not likely to be surprising that student success work is much more about the “people” side of the work than the technology—you might think of it as 70% people, 15% technology, and 15% process.

In supporting this work at the institutions, we have gained insights that can help other institutions starting or currently working in student success initiatives. Here are five areas we focused on to support the crucially important “people” side of a long-term student success effort:

Cross-functional teams are a must. It takes a village—yes, everyone on campus is responsible for student success, and everyone needs to be deliberate in breaking departmental “silos” so that the institution considers first the needs of the student rather than those of one or another department. Departments need to see and understand how their work is interdependent. It is critical that they share information and progress with each other as they transform and adjust their processes and practices to cut redundancies and support the student in a holistic way.

Leadership is key. Even though many are working and contributing to student success efforts on campus, someone in a leadership position should take charge, should lead the way, and should accept final accountability. We have witnessed the increase in new positions to take on this role, and it works!

Set a vision and communicate it often, and in multiple ways. The institution should set a vision for this work, create a plan of action, and define success. Anyone who is involved needs to tie what he or she is doing to the vision. Effective communication is a key factor in the success of these efforts. Not everyone needs the same information or will be able to understand it in the same way. The story should be tailored to the audience and should answer the question “Why?” “Why” is the linchpin that ties it all together.

Measure often and refine based on what is learned. An institution needs to establish goals and outcomes and find metrics that support the work, measures that the staff will be able to understand and care about. The most successful institutions collect their metrics, analyze their results, “wonder why”—and refine their work to continue the journey and progress.

Celebrate! Because a student success initiative is an ongoing and indeed unending effort, institutions should celebrate early wins, and celebrate them often. Doing so will help maintain momentum, commitment, and a sense of true urgency. Positive feedback and information on progress being made and milestones being achieved is critical for the success of this long-term journey.

Our iPASS or technology-enabled advising work with 36 grantees has been an amazing journey with many great outcomes to share. In the following series of articles, we will focus on specific examples of advising reform and the impact that it has on a full campus as well as the journey to change a campus to be data-informed in pursuit of excellence to support the quest for student success.


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