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Bristol CC Pilots Early Warning System in Title III-Funded Retention Effort

Bristol Community College in Massachusetts has begun using a new early warning system to help ensure student success as part of a Title III Grant program. The three-campus, 8,800-student institution has licensed software from Starfish Retention Solutions in a one-year pilot to connect first-year students to campus support resources as part of helping them fulfill their academic goals. Title III grants are awarded by the United States Department of Education to assist schools demonstrating a constructive effort to strengthen themselves.

Over the last decade, the college has consistently seen a yearly average attrition rate of 32 percent among part-time and full-time students. To address the issues that were limiting student persistence, in 2008 the institution developed a five-year, $1.5 million plan with two major goals:

  1. To support students in assessing, defining, and achieving their goals and building strong connections to the college community; and
  2. To prepare students with critical thinking skills and other general education skills they will need to thrive.

Bristol CC is looking to show a 10 percent improvement in student retention by 2013, when the program's funding ends.

The college has introduced several changes to its operations to focus on the objectives. For example, many foundational courses attended by large numbers of first-year students have been redesigned. Also, a traditional one-day orientation has been expanded to include "family nights" and "connected college" events attended by college deans, program directors, and faculty. Four out of five students have participated in these new activities.

Now in the third year of the grant, Bristol has licensed Starfish Early Alert and Starfish Connect. The first application ties into a school's learning management system and provides automated early warnings by monitoring the student's participation in courses through logins, attendance, homework, and other signals of class interaction.

Starfish then compiles and routes this feedback in real time to advisors and other staff on campus to reach out to students where needed and introduce appropriate support services. The second application provides an online means for students to schedule time with instructors, advisors, and counselors.

To date, more than 70 percent of instructors participating in the initial pilot have used Starfish to identify students who required further support.

"Bristol Community College has leveraged our Title III grant to support our students in new, more effective and efficient ways," said Ben Baumann, academic advising specialist. "Nearly every institution offers student support services. The sad reality across higher education is that those resources are often underutilized because students don't know where or how to access help. By incorporating Starfish into our program, we are now able to proactively engage students and drive them to help. We have had the support resources here--we just didn't always know which students to seek out. With Starfish, we do."

Other institutions using federal funds for licensing Starfish include Bowie State University in Maryland; Cleveland Community College in Shelby, NC; and Iowa Valley Community College District in Iowa.

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