Retention | Project Spotlight
Community College Uses Student Tracking Software to Improve Completion Rates
Harper College, a two-year
community college in Illinois, is using early warning and student tracking
software as part of its Project Success initiative, which identifies and tracks
students who are at risk of not completing their diploma or certificate programs
and then intervenes to ensure those students have the guidance they need to help
them complete their courses.
The seeds for the Project Success initiative were planted in 2009, when the
school examined its student success rates and discovered that a significant
number of those in developmental coursework were not progressing on to college-level courses.
The college developed a five-year strategic plan to improve student
completion rates. One of the strategies was Project Success, which targets high
school students who are beginning their first year at Harper College and who are
placed in two or more developmental courses. If faculty members note that those
students have missing assignments, are not attending class or have other
behaviors that put them at risk of not completing the course successfully, the
system flags the students so school counselors can help them get back on track.
Project Success began as a two-year pilot project in the fall of 2011, and the
program is now in its third year.
To launch Project Success, the college wanted a technology solution to help
gather data and share it between faculty and support team members. A committee
evaluated the various software tools available on the market. Once committee members had
narrowed the selection down to a few options, they brought in the vendors for
demonstrations and tested the software themselves. In the end, the college opted
for Starfish Early
Alert, an early warning and student tracking system from
According to Sheryl Otto, dean of student development at the college, Harper
College selected Starfish Early Alert because "it was very user friendly, easy
and intuitive, and that was important because we knew we were going to be
engaging hundreds of faculty across campus, both full-time and adjunct, as well
as counselors, academic support teams and students, so it had to be something
that could be rolled out without extensive training in how to use it."
Otto said Starfish gives the college a systematic method of collecting
information, so administrators can reach out to students, get them in to a counselor and
then develop a plan to get them back on track academically so they can finish
their courses successfully and move on.
The Starfish team worked with Harper College to implement the software,
customize it for the college's needs and integrate it with the college's
Ellucian Banner student information
system. Once students are flagged for monitoring in Starfish Early Alert,
student development staff members can access information about those students, such as
their course registrations, associated faculty and GPA, so they can use that
information to track student progress and get in touch with their instructors.
Near the beginning of the semester, instructors are notified which of their
students are being monitored by the Project Success system. A few weeks later,
the student development team sends the instructors a survey asking if any of the
students are missing classes, have any late assignments, aren't participating in
class and so on. If instructors have any concerns, they can just click the
associated checkboxes in Starfish Early Alert. Once a student has been flagged
for follow-up, Starfish notifies the student, the Project Success assistant and
the students' assigned counselor. Students are then encouraged to visit their
counselor, who works with the students to help them overcome any problems they
are having with their coursework. Counselors can also use Starfish to notify
instructors that a student needs to meet with them or to refer a student to the
"It facilitates all that communication, and it also allows us to run
aggregate reports, so we can look at how many students are being raised for
concern," said Otto.
According to information from Starfish, during the first year of the pilot
project, "56 percent of students were identified for needing extra attention,
and of those, 77 percent met with their counselor." In the second year, "63
percent of students were identified, and of those, 74 percent met with their
counselor before the end of the semester." The college also reported 80 percent
of students in Project Success persisted from the fall to spring semester,
compared with 70 percent of those who were not in the program. And in the second
year, "the fall-to-spring persistence rate for students in the program was
nearly 83 percent, while the college average was 76 percent."
"Those students who we are successful in getting in to see a counselor have
significantly higher success rates than those students who don't follow through
on seeing the counselor," said Otto. "So that has yielded significantly higher
differences in persistence rates and course completion rates."