Del Mar College is celebrating this graduation season with a stellar win as they catapulted past a 5 percent goal to increase graduation applications and attained a 34 percent graduation rate increase this academic year.
“The success of the completion initiative has a huge return on investment for the college. The data and insights provided by Civitas Learning made increasing our applications and hitting our five-year goal within year one possible.” – Del Mar Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Rito Silva.
Working under a Department of Education Title V grant aimed at increasing Hispanic graduation applications, Del Mar committed to boosting graduation applications by 20 percent over five years of the grant. In partnership with Civitas Learning, they realized this goal in the first year. The strategic completion initiative is powered by data and insights from the Civitas Learning platform and uses a graduation coach model with faculty and advisors acting on the data.
Del Mar had 687 graduation applications in Spring 2016 and completed Spring 2017 with 865 applications.
“The success of the completion initiative has a huge return on investment for the college,” said Del Mar’s Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Rito Silva. “The data and insights provided by Civitas Learning made increasing our applications and hitting our five-year goal within year one possible.”
Helping Underserved Populations Succeed
Del Mar College supports a diverse and typically underserved population of students, including adult learners, commuters, and Hispanic students. The institution is also among the top 50 Hispanic associate degree producers nationwide. Additionally, with the advent of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s 60x30TX mandate, the focus at Del Mar College has shifted from student access to successful student degree completion or transfer.
This shift was amplified by the 83rd Texas Legislature’s move to implement Student Success Points. This performance-based funding model rewards Texas community colleges on student performance metrics from course to degree completion.
Small Moves, Big Gains
The overall student success strategy was precise but not complicated, revealing the value demonstrated by small moves for big gains when working with Civitas Learning.
“While we are a new Civitas Learning school, we’re already seeing the benefit of the learning community and getting powerful results,” said Silva. “We received our first training in Fall 2016, including the chance to network and learn with dozens of other leaders at Civitas Learning’s Texas Community College Boot Camp. I think I’m speaking for myself and several colleagues in higher education when I say we tend to overthink student success programs. We forget the simplicity of a nudge and how effective that kind of campaign can be.”
Identifying Specific Student Segments
Del Mar focused its efforts in the initiative on students who were 75 percent complete toward a degree or certificate. They worked with the Civitas Learning platform – specifically the administrative analytics capabilities. “Through the Civitas platform, we identified students who had been here multiple semesters, then generated a list of these students and planned and executed outreach according to their status,” said Silva.
The team targeted initiatives based on persistence predictions. “For those with high persistence predictions, we sent emails,” said Silva. “For those with greater risk, at middle-to-low persistence predictions, graduation coaches made personal phone calls and invited them in for a face-to-face meeting.”
Coaching, Counseling & Career Advice
Silva said the program included workshops, financial literacy, tutoring, career coaching, and more. The college has just completed its first full semester with a goal to increase graduation applications by 5 percent over the previous spring.
“That program did well,” said Silva. “We set a goal of 5 percent and got a 34 percent graduation rate increase. This was the first semester we tried a data-activated strategy with Civitas, and it worked well.” He plans to continue to tweak and hone outreach efforts based on student segments and prediction scores.
Changing Lives One Student at a Time
Thinking back on the 800-plus graduation applications, one student comes immediately to mind for Silva.
“We had one student with more than 100 credits,” Silva noted, adding that the team looked at his courses and determined that not only did the student qualify for an associate’s degree, he also had completed enough credits to also earn an additional credential.
“We told the student, ‘You’ve graduated. Fill out this application and go see Career Services. You’ve got the degree and stacked a credential on top,’” Silva said.
ROI & the Real Reward
Silva recalls how he felt when that student sent back a thank you letter to the coaching team at Del Mar after earning his degree and certificate. “Getting these completers through to graduation earns us success points and funding, but the most important ROI is to the individual student,” Silva said. “Seeing that the nudge campaign changed their life, it all comes down to. Knowing you changed somebody’s life and possibly their family’s lives as well…that’s what we’re here for.”
Photo credit: Del Mar College Commencement courtesy of the Del Mar College Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/delmarcollege/