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Tech Not a Cure-all in Student Advising

college student meeting with adviser

A recent effort to use technology more consistently in the college student advising process resulted in few changes over the status quo.

The study, described in an interim report from MDRC, was an offshoot of the program known as Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success, or iPASS. The institutional participants in iPASS get technical assistance from a coach provided by Educause or Achieving the Dream, as well as access to training in-person and online, to revamp their advising and student support services.

Three of the schools, the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, California State University, Fresno and Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania, were particularly interested in assessing the impact of technology enhancements to their advising practices — as an enhanced version of iPASS. Those three institutions increased the emphasis on providing timely support, boosted their use of advising technologies and used various administrative and communication strategies to increase student contact with advisers.

The study found, however, that the changes "generally produced only a modestly different experience for students in the program group compared with students in the control group." Neither Fresno State nor UNCC saw "statistically significant effects" on their students' short-term educational outcomes.

MCCC, however, experienced an unintended consequence. Prior to the study, each college had required that certain groups of students see an adviser before registering for classes in the next semester. As part of participation in the pilot, each institution expanded this preregistration requirement to include all students in the study's program groups. At MCCC that requirement contributed to a small reduction in earned credits. The "mechanics" of the registration hold may have negatively impaired enrollment in seven-week courses that began mid-semester. If a program group student with a registration hold attempted to register for one of these courses, the student would have had little time before the add/drop deadline to contact the adviser to remove the hold.

Yet staff members involved in the project were still positive in their feedback, suggesting that iPASS and the enhancements made in advising at their institutions were "important steps toward a stronger system to support students and help them succeed."

The complete report is openly available on the MDRC website.

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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