Lone Star College System: Myth Busting and Engagement Building


Share this Post

Texas Governor Abbott recently signed House Bill 505 into law, removing any limitations on the number of dual credit courses high school students in Texas can take in a given semester or term. This announcement brought the team at Lone Star College to their feet in concern about persistence rates of this first-time-in-college student population.

Dual Credit Caps Lifted

“We have had a long held belief across the community college network that dual credit students persist best when they take no more than one or two courses at a time,” said Marian Chaney, Executive Director, Analytics & Institutional Reporting at Lone Star College in Houston, Texas. “Our persistence rates for dual credit students as a whole have remained consistent over time. We were very concerned that this bill would cause a surge in enrollments that don’t persist. We decided to dive into our Illume® data to demonstrate the validity of this concern.”

Persistence Myths Explored

What happened next surprised LSC, and may surprise others working in community colleges across Texas and beyond. Associate Vice Chancellor Wendell Williams spent time working with Illume’s powerful predictors and filtering student populations to better understand the persistence and success of dual credit students at Lone Star College – a population that can comprise high school students studying remotely online, on ground students at Early College High Schools, and home schoolers. He found the data were in contrast to the long-held assumptions. “His work uncovered a powerful insight for us,” said Chaney. “Our dual credit students actually increase in persistence when they take more than one course.” In fact, Williams and Chaney found that students who took one dual credit course per term persisted at 60 percent, those who took two to three courses persisted at 78 percent, and though a smaller population, those who took four or more courses persisted at 86 percent.

Using Data to Understanding Root Causes

“The thing with Illume and the Civitas Learning apps,” said Chaney, “is it can uncover new information like this, or it can confirm what we know and thought to be true. Either way, it lets us easily dive into the data, ask new questions, apply filters, and understand why we are seeing what we are seeing so we can take appropriate action.”

This opens up a world of other discovery for LSC. “We can now research why we have lower persistence among students taking only one course. Perhaps it’s a tough gatekeeper course which may not be best to take until successfully completing a few other courses. Perhaps the student demographics are different. We are looking forward to filtering and exploring the different demographic groups, for example, our home schoolers whose parents may be eager for them to acquire core credits. We can also now put systems in place to notify us when a student acquires a set number of credits as a dual credit student to be sure they are being advised properly for a certificate or degree. The possibilities for what we can learn are exciting for us and our students.”

Explosive Growth Adds Challenges

For Lone Star College these insights are critical. The College has had steady growth in the past couple of decades of 3 -4 percent increase in enrollments per year until recently when the economy staggered. They went from 45,000 students to 75,000 students in a very short period of time, putting a huge strain on their resources while also providing the moral challenge of helping almost twice as many students succeed to career and/or transfer pathways. The population growth has recently stabilized, new buildings have been built and opened, and some additional resources are available, but they have to quickly and clearly understand what these students bring, what they need, and the right way to meet their needs.

New Pilot for Faculty Outreach

“In addition to Illume, we’ve started piloting Inspire for Faculty,” said Chaney, “as one way to help get the right data to the hands of faculty and the students they are helping.” LSC intentionally selected a very broad range of subject matters for the pilot. They are working with about 30 faculty – full-time and adjunct – in subjects including computer science, English, government, art, project management, chemistry, business law, kinesiology and more. The courses are offered in a variety of modalities provided the faculty members are all using the same LMS-based gradebook. Students may be in their first or fifth semester. “We intentionally wanted a broad spectrum in this pilot,” said Chaney.

Personal Emails Net Personal Responses

“We recently had two of the faculty present their experience thus far in a meeting with our Chancellor and college Presidents,” she said. One of the professors used Inspire for Faculty for email outreach to all students in three sections, and he was pleasantly surprised to get back responses from all but seven students. “The thing that is significant is this – it’s not like Inspire for Faculty woke us up to doing outreach to our students, we were already doing it. But there is something about the interface that lets us see more, and understand each student better. The outreach is more personal and relevant, and the responses it generates are very personal insights from students who now feel a deeper connection to their faculty,” said Chaney. “The Chancellor asked them if this deep outreach created more work for them, and they said yes, it did a bit. But then he asked them if it was fun, and they said yes it is.”


“Some of this huge new population of students at LSC are in need of considerable scaffolding,” said Chaney. “Others are high achievers. Many are first-time in college. There’s also been a influx of working adults.” The variety of age and demographics poses challenges as the college works to identify which interventions and inspirations are working, and for which populations. “There’s not time to guess,” said Chaney, pointing to the additional 45,000 students LSC must now place on successful student pathways.

“I know I said to the Chancellor that using Illume is a little more work, albeit a fun type of work. However, I am starting to see the potential for saving work in other areas. On my own, I can tell a lot of things about a student. Attendance, level of effort, subject comprehension, and attention to deadlines come immediately to mind. With Illume, I can see more than this. Illume provides me with a better understanding of the patterns for individual students, as well as complete class sections. This information allows me to have a better idea about when to employ outreach to my students. Doing this when it is needed, when the engagement levels start to dip, means I can help students before they reach a critical level of low engagement in the class. Illume is a powerful tool with a ton of potential”. – Professor Jared Cootz

Bigger Impact and Richer Relationships

In addition to her roles as executive director role and one of LSC’s certified Illume Power Users, Chaney also teaches Business Law, including one of the pilot sections for Inspire for Faculty. “By allowing me to see a heat map of my students, at a glance I can quickly dig in a bit and see how individual students are doing. Say for example “Phoebe” has two B’s but her engagement has dropped. Her first B was an 89, her second an 82. I can see that I want to reach out and check in with her with a short email or phone call and see if maybe there’s a concept we’ve recently covered she’s not clear on. I can’t figure that out with my LMS alone unless I want to track every student against every grade, every time. Does doing this kind of outreach to students add a little more to my day? Yes, it does. But is it fun? Yes, it is. You can talk to any faculty member and you’ll find the only reason we teach is we want to make an impact. That is a common denominator across all faculty. When we can do this and make a bigger impact with a richer relationship with individual students, of course that’s what we want.”


Learn how the Lone Star College System integrated a scalable infrastructure and built cross-functional teams to be able to act on data-informed insights, scale innovations and assess impact from their initiatives to improve student outcomes.


Marian Chaney

Marian Chaney currently serves as the Executive Director, Analytics & Institutional Reporting at Lone Star College in Houston, Texas. Prior to this she served as Executive Director, Strategy & Governance for the Office of Technology Services. She has over 19 years of higher education IT experience and has held diverse leadership roles including Director of Instructional Technology, Director of Business Intelligence, Executive Director of IT Operations and Executive Director of Client Relations. Ms. Chaney holds a J.D. from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. Prior to joining Lone Star, Marian was a criminal defense attorney in the Kansas City area.

Related Posts

« »