Scaling Outreach in California Colleges


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In the California Community College System, one in five students enters college with undecided or undeclared major, and many change majors multiple times or ‘swirl’ throughout a number of state community colleges. The problem is complicated by a counseling shortage resulting in a ratio of approximately one counselor to every 1,800 students.

Recent state legislation and grants, including the addition of the Education Planning Initiative, aim to help students make better informed choices, clarify their goals and plan for success, and assist under-resourced counseling services.

Two sister colleges in California – Golden West College and Coastline Community College are no exception to the strained resources. Golden West serves 17,000 students from their commuter campus, and employs 13 counselors. Coastline Community College serves 12,000 students from three campuses and a growing online division and employs six counselors.

Last year, Golden West and Coastline implemented Civitas Learning’s Student Success Platform and signature app Illume®, and then deployed Inspire for Advisors® in their mission to provide counselors, advisors and other decision makers with a way to provide the right, timely and personalized outreach under the taxing workload.

Since then, both Coastline and Golden West have been using Illume Students to build a new system for proactive outreach to their students. “We are using the app for more personalized outreach and to lighten the feeling of the work load for our counselors,” said Coastline’s Dean of Instruction, Dr. Dana Emerson. “We want to use Illume and Inspire for Advisors to help get counselors back to their original focus which is the lives of their students.”

Golden West College (GWC) and Coastline Community College (CCC) are part of the same community college district but although they are located just a few miles apart from each other, the institutions have found that certain risk factors are not shared across students in the district. For example, at the Golden West campus, they found that older students with financial aid were less likely to persist than the student body as a whole, but at the Coastline Campus, the opposite was true.

Historically, GWC and CCC were only able to look at students using demographic factors and descriptive characteristics. Implementing Civitas Learning Illume Students and Inspire for Advisors (IFA) applications has brought together Banner SIS and Canvas LMS data to give the institution the ability to filter students by a variety of factors such as modality, whether they have declared their major or not (general admit students), military vs. civilian students, and other influences that are relevant to scaling while personalizing their work in advising. These innovations have helped build efficiencies and maximize resources for both schools.

The colleges adhere to California’s Ed Plan, and as part of that, align several milestones to the pre-registration and orientation process. With a Priority Registration filter activated in Illume, Dean of Counseling and Social Sciences at Golden West, Dr. Robyn Brammer, says she can see that the steps they require students to complete as part of the pre-registration process have predictive power for persistence. “We require this, but didn’t know for certain if it was making a difference,” said Brammer. “Now we can see it – when students have completed the Ed Plan requirements, I see persistence predictions of 57 percent for this cohort. With each stage or phase of the plan that they complete I see impact on persistence. For example, those with an incomplete orientation drop to 50 percent, those with that and incomplete assessment drop further to 49 percent and those with these items and an incomplete Ed Plan drop to 43 percent.” Brammer says being able to segment the students in the apps for tracking and outreach helps manage the large case load.

“Ed Plans are tied to state funding. We get paid by how many students complete each of these stages, so there’s intrinsic motivation to get the numbers as high as we can for our funding and for the students,” said Emerson. “But for the counselors who get inundated at key times of the year, they can feel like ed plan machines.

Brammer and Emerson say the work they are doing with targeted outreach to key student segments they identify in Illume are helping scale the outreach with existing resources. Brammer explains, “We think of it as snowball nudging,” she said. “Prior to having Illume and Inspire, we prepared for registration by reaching out to students who had not enrolled and suggested they contact a counselor if they had questions. But they couldn’t reply to the email.” Now students receive a more personalized email, and they can reply to it. Email responses and replies are gathered in a central inbox and sorted quickly and efficiently by an hourly employee who serves as registration router. They are learning some interesting things from the replies. “We didn’t realize how many students had parking holds blocking them from registering,” said Brammer. “Once we got some responses about that, we dove into our records and found more than 600 non-registered students with parking holds. We narrowed that to current students and found more than 100 that we could assist right away.”

“As our work with Illume continued into the semester we asked ourselves why not make these messages encouraging?” asked Brammer. “So we created targeted messages for each of six groups based on where they are in the numbers of terms completed and what they need to be thinking about in addition to the upcoming registration. For example, in their first term, they should be talking with a counselor about developing a comprehensive plan. They need to think through where they might hit road blocks and how to get around those.” Brammer says the emails allows the team to create a better flow of correspondence and visits to counseling center, rather than having the handful of counselors inundated twice a year by students who are not clear on what they need to be preparing to keep on their pathway to completion.

“We are seeing an interesting use case for Inspire for Advisors developing,” said Emerson. “Our student success coaches and other risk strategists who are not counselors are using the app for outreach.” Their Title III mentors are using the app for outreach with their population of Asian Pacific Islanders as part of their grant. Academic success coaches are using Inspire for Advisors with new high school graduates in a structured pathways program. “It’s being used for positive coaching as well as risk assessment,” said Emerson.

At Coastline, Illume is also helping Emerson and team identify segments of online learners – an expanding demographic with specific needs. “We have a growing population of online students, but we didn’t really know who they were. Now we are working to use our nudges to move online students off of the general education ‘undeclared’ major and into meta majors or declared majors. With Illume we can use the risk filters to just look at the red – highly unlikely to persist  – and filter out which ones are guest students who are taking just one course and they’re done.” This allows the team to know which students are just taking a transfer credit and which ones are longer term students who have dropped in engagement, numbers of credits taken or other indicators or risk to persistence.

“We are working to automate processes and provide personalized and appropriate outreach that frees counselors up to have the one-on-one conversations they want and need to have with students,” said Brammer.

Dr. Dana Emerson

Dr. Dana Emerson is the Dean of Instruction - English, Communication, Humanities, International Languages and ESL at Coastline Community College. She is Dean of Special Programs including Early College High School and is the institution’s lead for Predictive Analytics working with Civitas Learning.

Dr. Robyn Brammer

Dr. Robyn Brammer is Dean of Counseling and Social Sciences at Golden West College, located in Huntington Beach, California. Most of her professional work focuses on multicultural issues, especially religious competencies, sexuality, and gender identity. In addition to her role as Dean, she is a frequent author, counselor and speaker.

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