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Columbus Tech Tries Retention Software in Developmental Courses

Columbus Technical College in Georgia has deployed a retention tool to help monitor the progress of students taking developmental classes. One of 28 institutions in the Technical College System of Georgia, the 4,000-student Columbus Tech is using software from Starfish Retention Solutions to improve its retention rate by more closely tracking student performance and providing intervention to at-risk students.

The college system, which focuses on workforce development, offers a unique guarantee to the students enrolled in its institutions' programs and those employers who hire its students: If a graduate turns out to be deficient in the competencies defined in the standards within two years after graduation, the graduate will be retrained at no instructional cost.

The college collaborated with Starfish on development of an early alert system configured to work with other technology systems in place, including a Blackboard-owned Angel learning management system. For example, the college provides single-sign-on to get into both the LMS and the Starfish programs.

"Our recruitment team does a great job attracting students to Columbus Technical College. Our job is to keep them here. Unfortunately, for a lot of our students, all they need to do is stumble once and they are out the door," said B.J. Landen, counselor in Columbus' CARE Center, a counseling office. "The simplicity of Starfish makes it easy for our faculty, including a large percentage of adjunct professors, to communicate a concern they have for a student. Starfish takes the legwork out of simply getting a student in for help. In addition, because our team members receive the pertinent information about a student from Starfish, they are able to spend more time helping our students."

Any time a student in a developmental course has a gradepoint average that drops below 70 percent, Starfish alerts a CARE Center counselor, who reaches out to the student to see what can be done to pull that average up. Developmental classes include basic reading, English, and math. The system is also tracking students based on attendance, classroom behavior, lost employment, and online activity. To date, on average, a counselor addresses issues raised through Starfish within five days.

"Within just the first few days of Starfish being in place, we were already seeing upward of 30 percent of our instructors using the system to raise flags on students," said Ray Mercer, director for virtual learning "Starfish makes it easy for our counselors to 'close the loop' with the instructor who raises the flag. This simple step in the process encourages instructors to continue to get involved, because they know their concerns are being addressed."

The Starfish deployment consists of two applications. Starfish Early Alert is an early warning and student-tracking system that makes it possible for instructors, advisors, and academic staff to identify at-risk students in real time. Starfish Connect helps students access a personalized contact list of instructors, advisors, and counselors who can help guide them in their academic efforts.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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