Higher education is facing unprecedented external pressure and change. After decades of growth and expansion, colleges and universities now face massive disruption to their traditional way of doing business. This disruption challenges conventional operating models, results in lost tuition revenue, and even threatens the very existence of many institutions.
Institutions must implement data-activated student impact strategies that produce positive student outcomes and generate net tuition revenue to remain financially viable. Data analytics and intelligent student success software provide the infrastructure required to effectively develop and implement data-informed strategies that act as revenue generators instead of cost centers. Today, success requires shifting from one-size-fits-all, status quo approaches to multi-faceted, institution-specific approaches that allow leaders and their teams to quickly respond to evolving student needs over time.
“Status Quo” Student Success Models Aren’t Keeping Up with Change
Even before the pandemic, colleges and universities faced serious challenges to their traditional way of doing business, such as a decline in the perceived value of higher education, a shrinking number of high school graduates, a diversifying student population, more alternatives to postsecondary education, and shifting labor market demands. These challenges lead to enrollment declines, stagnating persistence and completion, increasing financial instability, and even closure.
On top of that, the pandemic amplifies existing pressures and adds new ones. Students continue to navigate uncertainty, health concerns, isolation from family and friends, and economic instability. Meanwhile, institutions are reopening physical campuses, investing in holistic student support, and building significant testing and vaccination operations. For some institutions, the pandemic is exacerbating the existing enrollment crunch and student retention decline leading to even more lost revenue as expenses continue to increase – further threatening institutional financial health.
“Status quo” approaches, where approximations are good enough, information is siloed, and strategies are backward-looking, won’t work. Traditional methods rooted in historical data, general best practices, and set and forget programs increase costs while diluting effectiveness. Ever-evolving challenges are outpacing the resources and operating budgets required to support the traditional approach to student success. The result? A growing disconnection between the desired student outcomes an institution needs to achieve their mission and stay viable and the results they can actually achieve – a Student Success Impact Gap.
Failure to close this gap will create a ripple effect of negative consequences resulting in lost generations of students and an existential crisis for institutions. To close this gap, institutions must predict risks for every individual student and student group, diagnose the underlying cause of risk factors and prescribe precise interventions that address the needs of their student right now.
What does it take to close the Student Success Impact Gap?
To succeed in the face of so much change and uncertainty, leaders must shed status quo practices built for a much different time. The future of student success requires a transformational shift away from strategies that focus only on at-risk populations, are limited to retention metrics, or are based on averages, benchmarks, and best guesses.
Instead, re-evaluate your team’s core approach and assumptions about what works for student success. Civitas Learning partners who’ve achieved sustained improvements of their student and institutional outcomes use a combination of data-activated student impact strategies that they assess, iterate, and adjust as their students and institutions change. Like these institutions, your team can make a difference for students this term and build and adapt strategies for future students to accommodate the evolution of your institution.
To do this, you need an intelligent student success platform that equips you with real-time visibility into student risk for various metrics throughout the student experience. When you know the factors influencing your students’ ability to succeed, you can connect them to the most effective interventions and work together with your team to monitor their progress. Insight into what works allows your team to continuously fine-tune student success strategies and allocate limited resources to the programs, policies, and practices with the highest return on investment.
There is no cure-all, and the right combination of strategies looks different at each institution. To close the student impact gap at your institution, focus your team’s efforts on multiple small, high-impact initiatives that meet the needs of your particular student populations. A data-activated student impact strategy empowers your team to make cumulative marginal gains that add to more students succeeding and a significant return on investment over time.
7 Student Success Impact Strategy Guiding Principles
Civitas Learning partners use these guiding principles to build sustainable student success models using data-activated student impact strategies that support student success and the financial health of their institutions.
1. Grow Your “Impact Data” Capacity with Software
Go beyond simple demographic data by bringing all of your data together. Your student success software should incorporate a broad range of student data: academic, behavioral, engagement, financial, sentiment, and more. Comprehensive student data from various sources like SIS, LMS, CRM, and card swipe systems builds a complete student picture. Nightly data updates mean advisors, faculty, and staff can spot trends, check in with students, and course-correct this term. The ability to incorporate new data sources quickly allows your institution to keep up with ever-changing educational demands and conditions.
2. Put Specialized Data Science to Work
Access diagnostic, descriptive, and predictive information specific to your institution and your students all in one place. Avoid using data analytics only to assess what happened the previous term. Assess and take action on accurate predictions from the first to the last day of this term. Your student success platform should continually process your student data to generate new insights, such as factors driving persistence and completion, and curate comprehensive datasets to quickly and easily see patterns and trends.
3. Better Predict Student Outcomes
Your student success software should provide a multi-faceted view of potential student outcomes by surfacing a combination of persistence and completion predictions, contributing risk factors, enrollment and course trends, and other insights. This visibility into the whole student experience allows your team to take a more equitable approach based on current engagement and behavior rather than historical and demographic trends. Better prediction of student outcomes improves the accuracy and timeliness of your team’s student success efforts resulting in a more significant impact on multiple student outcomes.
4. Understand Barriers, with Precise Clarity
Uncover all barriers and risk factors faster to precisely understand the root cause of student issues. The ability to disaggregate data reveals risk factors -academic progress, engagement, financial factors, institutional policy-that affect the likelihood to successfully complete a course, persist, or complete on time for particular student groups. When you know the specific cause of student challenges, you can provide more precise interventions. For example, suppose you know that successful completion of College Algebra is an indicator of success later in the curriculum. In that case, you can offer more support to increase the successful completion of that course. By improving student performance in College Algebra, your team also drives lifts in overall graduation rates down the road.
5. Intervene Faster
Stay one step ahead and make adjustments to your student success approach before it’s too late. Your data analytics and student success software should provide insights that help you know the exact levers to pull to influence student success and when. It should reveal proactive student engagement opportunities, help you prescribe specific actions, and give unique direction to each student for maximum impact. Make data-informed recommendations to students who need support – throughout the term – to help address potential challenges early and help scale advising capacity by spreading out interactions and outreach.
6. Optimize Initiatives Policies and Programs
Successful student success models employ a combination of programs, policies, and practices that work together to move the needle on student success. Your student success software should help your team align on what approaches work. And it should help leaders, like you, understand the efficacy and return on investment of every policy, program, and initiative so your institution can invest in strategies that work.
7. Continuously Recalibrate
Make every interaction with your students count by using your student data to optimize success strategies across your institution as circumstances change. With prescriptive and predictive analytics, you can build on what you already know by continuously tuning and adapting processes and practices to gain even higher levels of success. Access to up-to-date, holistic data enables your institution to identify the most important opportunities for improvement, measure what’s working and for whom, and connect people, processes, and workflows with operational intelligence.
Creating a data and analytics culture across departments allows your institution to discover new ways to boost impact beyond traditional academic interventions. The Civitas Learning Student Impact Platform enables your team to build in opportunities to analyze and adjust between terms to get better, faster. Real-time visibility into what’s working means you can maximize effectiveness and strategically invest human and financial resources in those programs that improve student success and generate the highest return on investment.
It’s Imperative to Shift to a Data-Activated Approach to Student Success
There is an institutional and moral imperative to make a meaningful impact on student success in financially sustainable ways. Despite the uncertainty and growing student needs, institutions can establish student success models that achieve positive student and institutional outcomes and support institutional financial health. To achieve this, leaders must understand the factors that influence a student’s likelihood of success to know where to focus efforts to address current student needs. The ability to uncover opportunities to better support students and a clear understanding of which tactics and interventions are most effective for particular students and student groups empower institutions to strategically coordinate action across campus.
By shifting to a data-activated student impact strategy, your team can precisely respond to the needs of students when they need it most throughout their college experience. The Civitas Learning Student Impact Platform provides the specific functionality you need to close the Student Success Impact Gap. With a data-activated student impact strategy, your institution can both help students and generate the necessary revenue to attain exceptional levels of student success and reshape higher education for generations to come