The higher education landscape is rife with student success initiatives. Given our shared propensity and commitment to want to see all students succeed, we’ve tended to extend ourselves with initiatives for so many students that we sometimes struggle to know which ones are working and for whom.
Our efforts to communicate effectively with students means we may over communicate to some students, and miss others altogether. And increasingly, the research points to the fact that the students we think are not struggling and have little risk may, in fact, be a large population poised to exit our institutions as exemplified by our recent work in the Community Insights Report’s (Vol. 1, Issue 2) insight about high GPA departures.
In the work I do with Civitas Learning and the college course I teach, I see it. We know students are struggling, we want to help, but until very recently, we had to paint our support in broad strokes in the hope of catching any needing assistance.
Fortunately, we are making advances in analytics and outreach that mean we no longer need to be painting our student success initiatives with very wide brushes in order to try to be all things to all people only to find ourselves exhausted with initiative fatigue.
Small Moves – Big Gains
Although we certainly want to reach as many students as we can, we want that information to be timely and relevant of course, and what we’re finding now across our community of partner institutions is smaller, more precise approaches to support may actually increase our net gain in the way of student term-to-term persistence. It doesn’t mean we can’t move mountains. It’s a small moves – big gains model.
Take the exemplary work at University of South Florida that you’ll be hearing more about in an upcoming Learning Brief. They had high persistence rates – in the mid to high 80 percent range – but wanted to reach 90 percent for both their students as well as the institution’s bottom line. By clarifying and honing their outreach, they took precise actions on reaching out to small groups of students and accomplished one of the most difficult things in higher ed – they made the final marginal gains from really good to great. Their successful work helped save students while also qualifying the university for millions more in performance-based funding dollars.
So how then should we begin to think about creating these more precise, small moves – big gains initiatives? Here are some considerations for your team as you formulate your outreach campaign.
Set Goals for Your Campaign
Campaigns need not boil the ocean; that’s the point I’m trying to make! Start by articulating your goals for the strategy and the outcome you wish to achieve. Every successful campaign begins with a goal. Filters in Illume Students afford campaign designers easy access to lists of students and their associated persistence risk prediction. Given our predictions are made via hundreds of data elements, they are a predictor you can trust to identify student risk even on the first day of the term. Trust the prediction!
Determine Who Will Perform the Outreach
Determine who will deliver your intervention. In some cases, academic advisors are equipped to deliver an intervention, while in other cases faculty, other administrators, and even student-leader peers can assist in supporting at-risk students with appropriate supports.
Use Filters to Work with Specific Student Segments
Campaigns are useful in any of our apps, be it Illume, or Inspire for Advisors and Inspire for Faculty. For this example, I’m going to focus on Illume where most of our community are launching their campaigns. You can use standard Illume filters (like the risk percentile filter) to explore similar groups of students. In a recent data exploration, I worked with a partner to filter for Pell-eligible students, identifying those needing early-term support. In that case, comparing Pell-eligible students with GPAs greater than 3.0 allowed us to see that those in the lower half of the prediction bucket had persistence rates more than 10 percent lower than their similar Pell-eligible peers. We used the Student Lists feature to export a list of Pell students with 3.0-4.0 GPAs who exhibited risk of non-persistence. Our new ‘add-column’ feature in Illume Students allowed us to then append the list of at-risk students with other data elements to facilitate the intervention. Adding columns is easy and helpful for those receiving a student list to ensure the conversation with the at-risk student can address a specific concern.
So to sum up, successful campaigns:
- Have specific goals
- Use filters to isolate a specific population
- Leverage the expertise of student support personnel on campus who are best-equipped to support the students in the at-risk group
It’s exciting to watch the work as we choose to say goodbye to the wide brush painting of student outreach and focus our outreach with more precision – netting us greater connection to student needs, and providing us the ability to scale our initiatives to the students who need them most, when they need them most. Precision also provides the ability to use our outreach to inspire and reward students who may not be at-risk at all, encouraging them to stay on their successful paths.
Trusting early and precise predictions around student risk empowers our community with the ability to focus our intervention efforts on smaller groups of students who need specific supports. This is the role that ‘small data’ plays in the context of ‘big data’ and analytics at the scale Civitas Learning’s Student Success Platform provides.
It is my hope that we can move away from seeing risk as a monolithic characteristic, and rather think about the pockets of students who are at risk, understanding the nature and scope of that risk, and in the end, saving more.