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Starfish 2 Adds 'Return on Intervention' Reports

Starfish Retention Solutions has debuted Starfish 2, a major revision to the company's suite of Web-based tools for improving school retention and connecting students to tutoring, advising, and counseling resources. Institutions will be able to implement the new version by the end of August.

The new release actually consists of two applications, both with new functionality: Early Alert, a student tracking system to help identify at-risk students; and Connect, which helps students access services on campus that can help them succeed.

The company also announced a partnership with Noel-Levitz, a firm that specializes in advising colleges and universities on their retention programs.

The combined offering of Starfish 2 will introduce several major features: additional built-in reports for administrators and others on campus, the ability to build "action plans" to assist advisors in keeping track of student follow-up; attendance tracking; and advisor group scheduling.

According to company CEO David Yaskin, since the applications are delivered as a service, updates are made on a monthly basis and slip-streamed into the applications that people are using; so some of the new features aren't unknown to customers. "It's not so much that we've been working for two years, and here it is. We've been incrementally rolling it out," he said.

To help institutional customers justify their investment in its services, Starfish has added a "return on intervention" report, which lays out how intervention efforts are affecting retention based on a number of student groupings. For example, one set of reports breaks a group of students out by SAT score, then looks at how no tutoring, two sessions of tutoring, or three or more sessions of tutoring will affect retention for each subset.

The reports are generated in Microsoft Excel and are available to customers of both programs. Other types of reports built into the software provide analysis of:

  • Instructor activities, such as whether they're grading assignments in a timely manner;
  • Flags, such as the reasons they're being raised and how quickly they're being cleared; and
  • Service usage, what users are doing with the system, particularly around appointments.

The student action plan for use by advisors and counselors lets them set and communicate milestones in order to document expectations for student follow-up and to keep tabs on their progress. Yaskin compared the feature to hospital "discharge notes," in that it provides a running record of what was agreed to in the advisor's office. "This was already provided by Starfish, but we weren't pulling it together in a way that was manageable," said Yaskin. This new feature is part of Connect.

The attendance tracking function, for use by instructors and institutional researchers, allows users to monitor who attends class or not, shows up late, or is excused. Yaskin said the school can use this data to flag students automatically, to research trends of student success and failure, and to determine appropriate policies. The system can also be configured to notify others when a student is showing signs of attendance problems.

An enterprise center scheduling function is intended for tutoring and advising centers with sizeable staffs. Starfish 2's Connect can now provide a view of all staff members' calendars to help with scheduling.

"The new enhancements in Starfish 2 offer friendlier interfaces that allow any institution to offer tools that enable instructors, advisors, and support staff to communicate, creating a real 'Personalized Support Network' that promotes the success of each individual student," said Al Valbuena, vice president for IT at Bowie State University in Bowie, MD. "In addition, I firmly believe that the new enhancements in Starfish 2 will support analytics reporting with ease, to assess and model the effectiveness of retention strategies."

Bowie State began using both Starfish programs earlier this year as part of an aggressive effort to reduce by half the gap in graduation rates of its students as compared to all students within the University System of Maryland, of which it's a part. Eventually, Starfish use will include tracking of all undergraduates at the 5,600-student institution.

"A lot of what we do is getting the right people the right information at the right time, and putting it into one place," Yaskin noted.

In other company news, Starfish has announced a deal with higher-education consultant Noel-Levitz. The latter offers Retention Management System Plus, a set of tools to help campuses identify their specific indicators of student success.

Under the new agreement, Starfish customers will be able to import data from the Noel-Levitz system to help the schools identify students at risk and track their intervention efforts. Advisors will gain access to student-specific data from the online student folder within Starfish to get a "holistic" view of the student, including course activity data, grades, instructor feedback, action plans, and other real-time data collected through the Starfish system.

"By combining our motivation and receptivity data with the tracking and case management functions of the Starfish system, our campus colleagues have the tools they need to identify and prioritize students at risk, insight into the student's area of risk, a means to provide students with the appropriate resources, and the ability to track outcomes throughout the academic experience," said Noel-Levitz Senior Vice President of Retention Solutions Janene Panfil. "The result is a more effective and efficient early alert strategy to increase student completion."

"We are pleased to be working with Noel-Levitz in a way that extends the value of their robust predictive data through our easy to use tracking and case management system," Yaskin added.

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