South Texas College: Data Signals That Change Conversations and Drive Action


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South Texas College (STC) serves over 34,000 students, offering more than 100 degree programs across 5 campuses located in south Texas along the U.S.-Mexico border region, and an online campus. STC’s student population is 95 percent Hispanic and 75 percent of students are the first in their family to attend college.

The success of these students is the highest priority for the group of 30 members who serve on the Planning and Development Council at STC, including VPs, academic and student deans, institutional research, faculty, directors, and curriculum committee representatives. This is the internal body that reviews data about students and proposes ideas for interventions and reviews proposals for new instructional programs, among other responsibilities.

When we partnered with Civitas Learning, it made sense to align our work with the Planning and Development Council — the primary leadership council responsible for evaluating the success of our students and reviewing institutional data to make decisions.

In the past, the Council used traditional data analysis to look backwards. While this type of data analysis is important in determining if we are being successful in completing our student success mission, we’ve been able to add to the conversation with the ability to:

  • Show what could happen to students currently enrolled if we don’t take action
  • Provide recommendations for what we could do to connect to students at risk
  • Identify which students are at most risk for not persisting in order to prioritize and tailor our efforts

Here are some of the ways Civitas Learning has provided opportunity and signal to add precision to our on-going work:

Signals as validation.
When we looked at first-time student data, for example, we found persistence predictions were much lower than expected. These students are already required to attend orientation, but this data validated our decision to implement mandatory advising for first-time students in fall 2017. Our goal with mandatory advising for first-time students is to help them to be on the right pathway to graduation from the start.

Signals to dive in deeper.
We assume equity challenges for our students — 95 percent of whom are Hispanic. However, we are learning to look at data from various equity perspectives — gender, age, etc. Illume Students makes it possible to further unpack our own assumptions to find opportunities to make improvements by addressing very specific challenges for different segments of our population.

Signals to take action.
We learned that our GPA tipping point (where the likelihood of persistence starts to switch to being more likely to persist from being less likely) is 2.4. Our processes don’t intervene until students go below a 2.0. This insight informed a nudge campaign to students between 2.0 and 2.4. More on this in a future post!

Signals to change conversations.
We discovered that credits attempted by students during a term influence persistence in a way that is not obvious. Full-time students usually perform better than part-time but… the gap in persistence is bigger around the 5 credit hour tipping point for our part-time students than it was for part-time students compared to full-time. This insight can change the focus of our continued conversations — From: How do we get part-time students to become full-time students? To: How can we get part-time students to register for 1-2 more courses?


Achieving the Dream president, Karen Stout, and Co-Founder and Chief Learning Officer at Civitas Learning, Mark Milliron dive into the findings from our analysis of 1.4 million student records to learn more about the students who attend part-time.


Dr. Laura Boyer Sanchez

Dr. Laura Sanchez serves as the Dean of Institutional Research, Effectiveness and Strategic Planning for South Texas College and has 20 years of experience in Higher Education. She provides leadership for the Research and Analytical Services and the Institutional Effectiveness departments, which drive the student success research agenda, Key Performance Indicators and continuous quality improvement processes for the College. Her primary areas of interest/expertise are accreditation, institutional planning, assessment, program evaluation, compliance policy analysis and reporting. In addition, she has in depth experience with higher education curriculum development and compliance, course schedule management, learning outcomes assessment, and evaluation of teaching and learning.

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