Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Student Success Plans

Easily Manage Academic Intervention Initiatives Like Early Alert

As colleges became more accessible after the 1960s, the student population not only increased in size but also increased in diversity. With this larger, more diverse population, student attrition has remained a leading issue with an even larger price tag attached. In response to the cost of losing students in higher education, many colleges have begun using interventions which focus on increasing the retention of their students. One of the more popular methods of intervention currently in use attempts to identify students struggling early in the semester and is often referred to as “Early Alert”. Many colleges and universities have committees and programs which design processes allowing staff and faculty members to submit alerts for students who display common behaviors associated with the risk of dropping out of college. The alerts are then handled by persons or programs/departments who have resources that will be helpful for the at-risk student. The resources are customized to each student according to what is presenting itself as a barrier to the at-risk student.  The application of unique remedies for at-risk students is sometimes referred to as an individual education action plan. These plans incorporate many of the proven practices for student retention and are so successful, they are required in all TRiO Student Support Services grants and have been for some time.

As these alert systems and resulting plans mature, colleges and universities are noticing the absence of tools available to help manage this very convoluted process. Unfortunately, most software developed for higher education is focused on two major aspects; institutional data such as enrollment and tuition, and on content presented in courses. Software that is designed to help manage a case load of struggling students while tracking their use of resources on campus is almost non-existent. The few systems that do exist rely heavily on the referral of resources to the struggling students, with little design centered on assisting the dedicated staff, faculty, and students who assist the at-risk students with managing and more importantly, assessing the value of these resources and interactions. Engineerica addresses this issue in their new, 2015 version of AccuSQL/AccuTrack through a new feature called Student Success Plans.

In order to design a success plan for college level students, Engineerica had to first identify questions about Early Alert initiatives that needed answering. As colleges and universities invest more and more dollars into these intervention methods, they need a way to answer important questions about the effectiveness of their programs. A few of the most important questions needing an answer include:

  • Which methods of reaching out to a student are most effective?
  • Which resources are used most by struggling students?
  • Are the students who follow the prescribed remedies for their failing performance more likely to succeed?

Keeping those broad assessment goals in mind, Engineerica then tackled the important aspects of managing the plans. This management has its own set of questions as well:

  • Who will identify the student in need? How?
  • Who should be assigning action items?
  • How does a student complete an assignment?
  • Who will verify the item is complete?

The result is a success plan that collects data that will help address the broad assessment questions while empowering staff, faculty, and students with a management tool designed to be easy and available to everyone involved.

The Student Success Plan feature in AccuSQL/AccuTrack begins with the creation of action items. These items include information as to where the student can find what is needed to compete an item and move closer to success. An example action item may suggest the student locate the tutoring center and make an appointment with a chemistry tutor.

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The notes in this item are unique to the item itself and should include persistent information like the location of the tutoring center and the process for making an appointment.

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These items are then assigned to students as needed. When an assignment is given, the person assigning the item will show, more notes can be added that should be specific to the student, a deadline can be set for completion of the item, and the student will receive an email with all of the information about the item.

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In this example, the person working with the student will most likely be the same person that completes the item once the student has a quiz result to share. Not all action items are completed by the same person who assigns the item. Let’s use financial aid as an example. Let’s imagine that a student came to his academic advisor after his classes were dropped just before the semester began. After some investigation, the advisor finds that the student’s Pell grant has not been packaged because of a rejected SAR so the classes were not secured with funds. The advisor then assigns the student an action item which was created by the financial aid department.

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Because this university uses AccuSQL/AccuTrack in both their advising center as well as their financial aid department, the financial aid advisor will be able to complete this item once the student meets with her. The financial aid advisor is able to make notes as well, however, these notes are not shared with the student rather they become similar to session logs in AccuSQL/AccuTrack’s regular logs. Now when the academic advisor reviews this student’s success plan, she will see the student has met with the financial aid advisor and has received advice.

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Not only did the financial advisor determine the cause of the rejection, she also added to the student’s plan.

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The academic advisor can now rest assured that the student is on his way to remedy the situation and successfully attend another semester. When the student returns to her, a simple review of his success plan will refresh her memory of his situation regardless of how much time has passed. Keep in mind, this situation could have resulted in the student dropping from college, yet, the issue was remedied even before most Early Alert processes would have identified the issue.

As plans are developed for students, programs can begin to run reports on their effectiveness in regards to student retention. The Student Success plan in AccuSQL/AccuTrack will report the number of action items assigned to students and then show a percentage of those assignments that were completed by the student both within the deadline and those that were completed late. These percentages can be compared with institutional data on enrollment. Now that we have an idea of how the Student Success plans work, let’s return to the questions.

  • Which methods of reaching out to a student are most effective?

To answer this question, Early Alert programs can test which communication venues seem to result in the most responses from students. Let’s use the rejected SAR example. If the Early Alert program made a student group of the students reported by financial aid as having a rejected SAR, they could then use AccuSQL/AccuTrack’s Student Success feature to assign each of them the action item that asks them to meet with their financial advisor. They could then run reports on that same group of students to see how many actually visited their financial aid advisor. Each time they assign student groups action items, they can compare how many students actually responded as well as administer surveys to the students in the group as far as why they did or did not respond.

  • Which resources are used most by struggling students?

Making use of the Action Item Type and Mnemonic fields when creating action items can help identify which if these action items are completed most often by the students. Furthermore, each time Early Alert student groups are created, those groups can be used to run standard visits reports in AccuSQL/AccuTrack.

  • Are the students who follow the prescribed remedies for their failing performance more likely to succeed?

Reports showing the percentage of completion in a Student Success plan can be compared to the enrollment, GPAs, and even graduation rates of the students using the plans.

  • Who will identify the student in need? How?

This question addresses one of the toughest barriers to success for any intervention endeavor. Indications of struggle from a student rarely come from one source, therefore, the most promising answer to this question will include many entities on campus. The people responsible for identifying at-risk students will be a combination of institutional research personnel, Early Alert program personnel, faculty, staff, and even students. Colleges and universities who have developed retention initiatives have usually already identified this group.

  • Who should be assigning action items?

The assignment of an action item should always be made by the person to whom the student will seek when attempting to complete the item. It would not be of any help to a student if an analyst in the university’s IR department who was able to run a report showing first time in college students who are also first generation in college students with a cumulative GPA below 2.5 who have visited the university’s Academic Resource center less than 5 times this semester was also the person to assign the student an action item suggesting they visit the ARC before midterm exams. The report should be shared with the ARC’s academic intervention program so that when the students respond, they will be able to reach out to the staff members most familiar with the resource.

  • Who will verify the item is complete?

The person that oversees the resources mentioned in the action item or simply the person who assigned the action item is nearly always the best person to also complete the action item. The rejected SAR example above demonstrated how nicely a collaboration between resources can result for a student in need. However, there will be colleges and universities where AccuSQL/AccuTrack are not yet used across campus. Had the financial aid department not been using AccuSQL/AccuTrack in the above example, the advisor assigning the action item could have remained responsible for its completion by having the student meet with her again after meeting the financial aid advisor. Another solution would be to refer the student to any intervention program available at the institution.

Engineerica is positive the Student Success feature in the 2015 version of AccuSQL/AccuTrack will be a powerful tool for academic intervention endeavors for institutions of higher education. It is our hope here at Engineerica that we can empower your college or university with the data needed to make necessary improvements in order to increase retention rates for its student body.

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