Retention | News

Small New York College Boosts Retention with Early Warning System

A small private college in New York's Adirondack Mountains has seen the number of returning students rise by 5 percent over the previous year through several "student success" initiatives, including the use of applications from Starfish Retention Solutions. Paul Smith's College, with about a thousand students, estimated that retention-related increases in net student-derived revenue for the year totaled more than $540,000. The college's tuition per academic year is about $20,000.

The college had been chipping away at increasing its retention rates for years. But the count for both freshman-to-sophomore and sophomore-to-junior retentions had followed a five-year average of 62 percent. In 2009 the institution responded by launching its new student support program.

Rather than concentrating primarily on students with classic at-risk characteristics based on admissions data and demographics, Paul Smith's took a coordinated approach in responding to student needs on multiple fronts.

To document, coordinate, and communicate student-related activities, the college began using Starfish's Early Alert and Connect applications. Early Alert allows the school to monitor academic performance based on grades, assignments, and online activity and then notify instructors, advisors, and others based on pre-set thresholds. Connect allows students to make online appointments with various campus service providers to get help. The two applications are hosted by Starfish and accessible through an institution's student information, portal, and course management systems.

One aspect of the student success effort at Paul Smith's is an academic recovery program. Underperforming students meet with a mentor on a weekly basis. Those mentors use Starfish to track the students' activities and progress. A mentor can view notes entered by other people on campus and be sure that the student followed up appropriately. For example, if the expectation is that a student will attend tutoring sessions, that commitment can be entered by one person and monitored by another. The school has documented a 30 percent drop in the number of academic recovery students suspended at the end of fall 2010 as compared to fall 2009. That meant more students were academically eligible to return to the school the following term.

Another aspect of the program is monitoring grades. Early Alert allows faculty to raise flags within the first weeks of the term about students who are underperforming. Those who have been flagged are then actively offered support services early on, while they still have a chance to recover their performance. The college reported that during the last two academic terms, 97 percent of faculty have used the Starfish system to report a concern about a student. As a result, the number of students who had mid-term grades of D or lower dropped by 6 percent between fall 2009 and fall 2010; the number of students with B grades over that same period increased by 5 percent.

"Student success is our top priority at Paul Smith's College. That said, as financial stewards, we have to know that the investments we make to help students succeed are going to pay off and help fund the institution's priorities," said John Burke, Paul Smith's vice president for business and finance. "With the deep adoption of the Starfish system and real-time sharing of information across campus, we have already seen a four-and-a-half-fold return on our investment in the technology and related program costs, including personnel. At the same time, the campus services that are empowered by the Starfish system are noticeably more efficient and better-prepared to help our students."

Loralyn Taylor, director of institutional research and registrar, said she believes Starfish's software has made the student success initiatives possible. "We are energized to see positive indications that our efforts are making a difference," she said.

Taylor will be featured in Webcast sponsored by Starfish April 5, 2011 at 1 p.m. Eastern.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

comments powered by Disqus