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The Role of Technology in an Outcomes-Based Funding Environment

A Q&A with Brandy Cartmell

The University of Tennessee, Martin has a strategy in place to comply with a statewide outcomes-based funding mandate. Their initial work, completed during the 3-year "hold harmless" implementation window, was done in response to the Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010, which rewards institutions for outcomes related to retention, progression, and student success.

All state-funded higher education institutions in Tennessee, through the Tennessee Board of Regents and the UT system, are aligned with the state's master plan and the "Drive to 55" — the governor's push toward a 55 percent rate of Tennessee residents possessing a higher education credential. These institutions, along with the independent schools of the state, work in consort to help more citizens achieve their credentials, and those colleges and universities receiving state funding must demonstrate specific outcomes — rather than just tracking enrollments as was done in the past.

The outcomes-based funding is weighted according to the mission of the institution — as a medium-sized masters institution, UT Martin is weighted most heavily on bachelor's degree attainment and has developed strategies to optimize the success of its bachelor's candidates. CT talked with Brandy Cartmell, Interim Executive Director of Student Engagement and Registrar, to understand the role of technology in UT Martin's strategy.

Mary Grush: Does technology factor into your strategy to respond to your state’s mandate for outcomes-based funding?

Brandy Cartmell: Definitely. Technology is my passion, particularly using it to make the institution more efficient in our operations while assisting students to be successful. We leverage technology for fiscally responsible practices — using the dollars we have to better serve students and to better offer them what they need.

Grush: Could you describe a few of the main technology components supporting your strategy?

Cartmell: Above all, we have increased communication. In particular, we have used our CRM to create plans that increase communications with our students and parents, and with our faculty and staff.

Our technology, including tracking and a system of early alerts (to faculty, students, parents, academic advisors, and others as appropriate), helps students reach progression benchmarks and ultimately supports our retention goals.

One piece that's fairly unique is our parent portal. Students can opt to sign a FERPA release that allows their parents to have access to the parent portal. We have a high proportion of first-generation college students — 42 percent of all our students — so, many parents don't even know what questions to ask to help their freshman student become successful in college. Our parent portal helps the parents to learn what resources are available (tutoring, writing lab, math lab, and others) so that they can help guide the student to those resources. The portal provides tracking of the student's progress, as well as offering questions to ask so parents can be part of the safety net for students when that's needed.

Of course, we have many ways we use technology to track our progress. We bring data down from Banner into our CRM so that we can run reports and generate statistics. We look at open rates and response rates on our e-mails and surveys so that we know whether we are effective in our campaigns and can resend or readjust as necessary.

And in general, UT Martin is a very personalized campus, which is something we pride ourselves in. The CRM helps support that culture. For instance, we send out e-mail birthday cards to freshmen, and even to the parents of freshmen, to faculty, and to staff — giving them all a sense of connectedness and personalization.

Grush: Was the parent portal part of your existing CRM?

Cartmell: We created it by modifying our Hobsons CRM Retain student portal.

Grush: Is that something you did in house?

Cartmell: We modified the CRM student portal ourselves, to create the parent portal. By the way, it's a hosted system, so all of that is cloud-based, and Hobsons supports us in the cloud.

Grush: How do you measure and report outcomes?

Cartmell: We measure things such as retention, progression to established benchmarks, degrees awarded, probation numbers, and numbers of earned hours students get in a semester or in their first academic year. Also graduation rates, job placement rates, employer surveys, alumni surveys, and enrolled student surveys… The software provides statistics for us. Each semester we do a report to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC).

Grush: Where are you now in the implementation time line of your strategies supporting outcomes-based funding?

Cartmell: We are just entering the evaluation and assessment phase — having completed the basic initial implementation and being active with the outcomes-based funding model. For example, the parent portal was implemented and in use for the Fall 2012 incoming freshmen. So, we are already assessing an entire first year of the parent portal, to determine whether there is a relationship between the parent portal and retention.

Grush: What are next steps for you — your priorities as you continue this work?

Cartmell: We need to increase our retention and graduation rates — our student success. So we must take advantage of every creative, innovative thing we can think of. I think today's student is technology-oriented, and we need to leverage technologies. I will continue to use the CRM, and especially listen to the parent surveys on the parent portal, to learn what they are looking for.

Continuing to leverage technology, continuing to learn how our parents can help us, and listening to our customer — those would be the three things I'd say we will continue to emphasize as we go forward.

It's always a challenge to get people on board and to get them to change. Our campus, like all other campuses, was used to an enrollment-based funding model. We are now outcomes-based, so we have to change the way people think — the culture. But our campus is great. Our campus really appreciates and cares about the student. I think, by reaching those benchmarks, we benefit our students, we benefit our region, our state, and our whole country: It's exponential, as we help those students to become successful and graduate with a degree.

Many times with higher education, changing the culture is evolutionary, not revolutionary. But we need to make revolutionary changes if we want to benefit our students. That's what we're going for at UT Martin — to change the face of our campus and create success for all students.

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