As we have hunkered down during weeks of intense cold, I couldn’t help but remember the travel I did this fall to several warmer climates (Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Anaheim) for three very different, yet similar conferences.
These conferences were each convened for three different audiences:
- The Virginia Community College System Conference for Student Development Professionals
- The Southern Association for College Student Affairs (SACSA)
- The Educause conference for Chief Technology Officers and for Chief Information Officers.
These events differed greatly in terms of size, audience, and focus. The Educause conference was by far the largest of the three, hosted in the Anaheim Convention Center and sporting a massive exhibit hall with many vendor-specific learning labs. (The swag was far better than the pens and note pads my kids typically receive upon my return home!)
However, they all had the same goal: for participants to share and explore new ways for tackling the challenge of student success and completion. In fact, the urgent need to increase student retention and completion was palpable at all three events. Those from the Virginia Community College System are motivated by an aggressive statewide strategic plan. The attendees of SACSA are working under increased accountability brought on by performance-based funding and economic development drivers. The attendees at Educause have the desire to use technology to contain and reduce costs, as well as to enhance student learning outcomes.
Participants at each event were intensely engaged and motivated to take away new ideas and strategies back to their own campus. A few strategies and ideas really resonated with me:
Online student advising
The delivery of even the most basic online advising (in a live chat type of interaction) can have a large impact on customer service, student satisfaction, and enrollment. Presenters from two separate Virginia Community Colleges shared how they supported student enrollment and momentum for working students as well as for students coming home for the summer who wanted to pick up a couple of classes. Increased summer enrollment translated into significant tuition dollars for their institutions. They did not share the impact on student persistence and progression, but I would anticipate a positive boost.
Micro-surveys and micro-segmentation enabled by mobile technology and interaction
Vince Kellen from the University of Kentucky spoke about how they are using frequent mini-surveys (one or two questions) on their mobile system to measure student motivation. Some sample questions were: Have you bought your books? How stressed are you right now? Are you enrolling for the spring term? These data then drive real-time interventions. Vince went on to share impressive survey participation rates (with the impact on success still pending). What I really liked about this was how simple it was as well as how the university could act on the data (for students who said they had not bought books or did not plan to enroll the next term, for instance).
Predicting student retention through analytics and statistical modeling
Predictive modeling and analytics can be used to measure and support course success, course selection, major selection, and student retention. An accurate model depends on good, clean input data. Even more important, improving on the model predictions requires using the results to drive engagement with students. As presenters from University of Wisconsin Green Bay and South Orange County Community College noted, what recommendations, actions, or “nudges” can the campus get the student to take? Equally important to the science and the technology is the implementation of the strategy developed based upon the results. (This action is something we stress in our own predictive modeling for student retention.)
Increasing completion requires collaboration
A president’s panel representing both two-year and four-year institutions expounded on their shared concerns about financing, in terms of both the lack of resources rebounding from state and federal government sources, and also student challenges with increasing tuition, loan indebtedness, and decreasing financial aid. They highlighted the tension driven by the demand for more output and results (in the form of growing public demands for accountability), less funding inputs, and questions about the value of a college degree. Given these challenges, the panel encouraged the SACSA attendees to be dynamic leaders, marketers, and advocates within a framework of strategic enrollment management. They sought seamless academic and co-curricular learning, and also the creation of creative educational pathways. More than anything they encouraged enterprise-wide thinking and collaboration.
But with all the talk of scalable solutions, credit for prior learning, progress tracking, degree audits, and learning platforms, to me it boils down to what Jenny Bloom at the SACSA conference said when defining the idea of appreciative advising: “Our work is the intentional collaborative practice of asking open-ended questions that help students optimize their educational experiences and achieve their dreams, goals, and potentials”.
While identifying which students to talk to first and what we should talk to them about is a critical step in our student success strategies, the act of an intentional, collaborative, positive conversation is equally important for student and institutional success. In our rush to invest and implement new technologies and strategies, we can’t forget that one-to-one interaction is still critical to success.
With no winter thaw on the horizon for those of us based in the Midwest, I am looking forward to traveling to San Diego for the Conference on the First Year Experience for some warmer weather as well as more great inspiration on student success. More than anything, though, I look forward to continuing to help campuses facilitate early intervention, collaborative conversation with students, and greater student success. This is a topic we will explore at an upcoming Noel-Levitz webinar, Raising Retention Rates by Prioritizing Student Interventions, coming March 5. We will be discussing early intervention and student assessment strategies that have worked for campuses all over North America, and two campus colleagues will be sharing their results as well. I invite you to attend, or feel free to email me with your questions or comments.
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