Browsed by
Author: Jason Young

Is Your Title III Grant Money Working Hard Enough for Your Institution?

Is Your Title III Grant Money Working Hard Enough for Your Institution?

It’s a competition that happens every two years, or when department of education determines there is enough Title III funds.  The chance to be awarded a 5-year grant that is estimated between $400,000 and $450,000.  The grant is intended to strengthen institutions by supporting them to become more self-sufficient.  The money is to be used to expand capacity to serve low-income students and improve and strengthen academic quality, institutional management and fiscal stability.  Applications were due mid-April and institutions will learn if they have received the grant in mid-July.  There is close to $3.7M estimated available for this year’s highly competitive competition amongst a group of institutions who are all in need.

Once awarded, the competition heats up internally.  According to the Title III Grant website, funds awarded can be used for one or more of the following activities:

  • Scientific or laboratory equipment
  • Improving classrooms and facilities
  • Faculty support and development
  • Development and improvement of academic programs
  • Purchase of library books, periodicals, and other educational materials
  • Tutoring, counseling, and student service programs designed to improve academic success
  • Strengthening funds and administrative management
  • Establishing or improving an endowment fund
  • Creating or improving distance learning

I have focused largely on the student service side of the house for many years.  Institutions are hungry for Title III funds to support student success and retention.  The cost to acquire a student is substantial, but then once enrolled paper-based processes and sub-par systems create inefficiency and confusion.  As a result, students may not receive the support they need and they leave the institution as a result.

I have had the fortunate experience of observing many institutions and how they approach utilizing Title III funds.  There are a few who really approach this carefully and their approach is pretty similar.

  • Establish a 5-year plan
  • Identify technology or other solutions that support achieving these institutional objectives
  • Implement the technology or other solution successfully
  • Execute and manage like you have managed nothing before
  • Measure and document outcomes

Establish a 5-year Plan

Your team has applied and now after sweating it out waiting for results, your institution has received Title III funding.  What happens now?  All departments want a piece of the pie.  I have seen some strong roadmap with detailed, measurable outcomes after 5 years.  While you may come across progressive technology, if it is not aligned with your institution’s goals and objectives it is likely a poor investment.  It is also a good idea to involve as many as you can in the process while balancing progress through multiple opinions.  When implementation meets execution your funds will start working for you.

Identify Solutions that Support Achieving these Institutional Objectives

This is a critical process.  There are so many solutions out there and they each have their unique approach and set of features.  I have noticed a strong inclination to select solutions from current technology on campus, such as the existing Student Information System.  Michael Mathews, CIO and AVP for Technology and Innovation at Oral Roberts University, wrote an article in May 2017 titled “The Student Information System Dilemma.”  He talks about the SIS industry and the confusion being created.  He states, “As CIO’s, we are called to get into the digital era and lead revenue-generation efforts on campuses.”  Take this opportunity of awarded grant funding and explore what is out there.  These are big decisions and require a methodical approach to ensure the right solution is selected.

Implement Successfully

Once you have invested in the latest technology that is aligned with your 5-year plan, it is time to start the process of full integration.  This typically requires a culture change and certainly involves a new workflow.  Involve as many as possible.  Generate a level of enthusiasm about the new technology and set clear expectations for utilization.

Execute and Manage (like you have managed nothing before)

Change takes time and a good solution will provide the support and expertise to optimize usage.  It is important to realize that this takes a tremendous amount of work.  That being said, we should work really hard for our students.  As an example, it is not easy to move the needle on graduation rates.  There are some fantastic solutions out there that will provide the necessary increases.  The hard work that faculty and student support staff put into full utilization will lead to more students with a degree or certificate in hand.  We are in the business of changing lives.

Measure and Document Outcomes

There are published expectations for program-wide performance measures.  They center on year over year retention rates and graduation rates.  More important, the new solution being implemented should provide support in creating a baseline and measuring progress over time.  Adjustments should be made when falling short of expectations.  Publish your results as soon as possible so that faculty and staff can directly see the fruits of their effort.

You know your Title III funds are working hard enough for your institution when investments have been made in solutions that allow faculty and student support staff to enhance how they educate and support students.  These solutions result in measurable outcomes, namely increased retention and graduation rates.  Student outcomes are certainly the primary focus, but it is also important to consider the residual impact.  Such as, the ability to attract and retain top talent and energizing faculty and staff by providing innovation and technology.

Institutions that entered the Title III Grant competition are eagerly awaiting word.  The maximum award is $450,000.  This can go quickly.  With a methodical approach to selecting new solutions and technology, it is possible to impact several areas within the university.  If you are a fortunate winner, there is some pretty innovative technology out there just waiting to make a splash at your institution.

Aviso Retention provides software and predictive analytics to increase student success and retention.  Click here to learn more.

Student Advising Models and Guided Pathways

Student Advising Models and Guided Pathways

“Guided Pathways” is the buzz phrase in higher ed these days.  Data is showing how a guided pathway’s solution impacts student success and graduation rates, especially at community colleges.  A study by Davis Jenkins and Sung-Woo Cho that was released in 2012 showed more than half of students who entered a program in their first year earned a credential or transferred within 5 years.  For students who did not enter a program until their 3rd year, the success rate was about 20%.

The concept of guided pathways makes a lot of sense.  It’s pretty amazing how often a student will register for a class that does not advance them closer to their academic goals, thus using up precious financial aid.  That being said, it’s a lot of work for an institution to take on.  In this case, it literally takes the entire village.

A guided pathway solution can still allow for customization of course schedules by way of academic plans with default choices.  There are several other benefits in shifting specific programs to a guided pathways route, including:

  • An increase in completion rates through enhanced structure and support for students
  • Optimization of the use of financial aid
  • Defining and assessing learning outcomes for entire programs
  • Faculty working together to create instructional program coherence
  • Students seeing the big picture of their program and how individual components lead to achieving their goals

For this model to be successful, there must be a shift in the overall student support network.  The American Association of Community Colleges states that the guided pathways redesign model should be built on three design principles:

  • Institutions must pay attention to the entire student experience, not just a segment of it
  • This is not an isolated solution in a long list of reforms, rather an opportunity to unify a variety of reform elements
  • Redesign process starts with the end-goal in mind (ie. employment) and then works backward to map out a program

My intention here is to focus on the student service component of the entire ecosystem.  From a student advising perspective, a guided pathways approach elevates the precision needed by student support services.  It’s critical that student services evolve with the guided pathways model.  Below are some key ingredients to consider:

  • Ability to closely monitor student academic plans
  • Automatic alerts that are triggered the minute a student falls off plan
  • Advisors and faculty can intervene early as at-risk indicators identify students who could potentially fail critical courses
  • Advisors and faculty work closely together to monitor and support student progress
  • Students can monitor their progress towards achieving their academic goals

Aviso is a turnkey solution that provides academic planning to support guided pathways, coupled with predictive analytics and an engagement platform that easily places a student’s challenges and achievements right in front of student support staff.  Rather than a reactive and transactional student environment, the intention is for advisors and faculty to focus on measuring outcomes and continuing to fine tune the guided pathways ecosystem.  If you aren’t doing this already, consider conducting a pilot to observe the impact yourself.

Aviso Retention provides analytics, software and expertise to increase student retention and engagement.  Click here to learn more.

The Retention Dilemma with Graduate Programs

The Retention Dilemma with Graduate Programs

When you think about student attrition, is it ever in the context of graduate school?

Probably not, but you should.  Undergrad retention rates hover around 50% and the same goes for masters and doctoral students.

Colleges and Universities are more focused on their undergraduate attrition than what is happening in their graduate programs.   I had the fortunate circumstance of attending the Annual Meeting for the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools in early March (which, by the way, is a fantastic group of people) where I had conversations with several Deans of graduate programs spread from Maryland to Texas.  The conversations were overwhelmingly similar.  Each one sharing they would love to have a retention solution similar to what their undegraduate counterpart currently has, but they don’t have the student numbers in their grad program to justify the cost.

Let’s pause and think about this for a minute.  One particular institution comes to mind that has 20,000 undergrads and 4,000 graduate students.  If this institution is experiencing an overall attrition rate of 20% annually for both programs, then they are looking at losing 4000 undergrad and 800 graduate students.  Seems to make sense to focus on the larger number, but losing 800 graduate students results in a $7.2m loss in tuition revenue for this particular institution.

Through my discussions, the predominant reasons I am hearing their institutions are not investing in a retention solution are:

  • Less Return on Investment when compared to undergrad
  • An assumption that students who leave cannot handle the academic rigor, so we should allow for this natural attrition
  • An assumption that some students leave because they’ve chosen a different career direction, which usually involves gainful full time employment

Let’s break these down…

Less Return on Investment when compared to undergrad

It’s hard to find numbers on loss in tuition revenue for graduate programs.  An Educational Policy Institute report shows a loss in tuition revenue for undergrad at $16.5B, so I’m guessing if graduate programs are experiencing a 50% attrition rate the financial loss there is still a staggering number.  The institution mentioned above would see an increase in tuition revenue of $0.5M with a 7% increase in retention.  An affordable solution would provide very strong return on investment.

An assumption that students who leave cannot handle the academic rigor, so we should allow for this natural attrition

A strong admissions department should be filtering out students who will struggle.  Of course, the expectation is rarely 100% retention and certainly a small population of students may struggle academically.  Most students admitted to graduate programs can meet and exceed the academic requirements, but life gets in the way.  When priorities shift and life intervenes, the performance drops.  It’s easy to point the finger at performance, but is that the true reason a student leaves their graduate program?  Identify these dips in performance quickly and then engage to uncover the real issue.

An assumption that some students leave because they’ve chosen a different career direction, which usually involves gainful employment

Students who drop of out graduate school are likely pulled away by life situations.  Families, health, career, finances, debt and self-confidence are key factors.  The latter factor there, self-confidence, is important to pay attention to.  In Amy Cuddy’s book, Presence, she talks about the high number of people admitted to prestigious academic programs who experience imposter syndrome, which is basically a consistent feeling that they must have fooled the admissions folks to gain acceptance into their program.  She experienced the same thing herself as a grad student at Princeton, now she’s a best-selling author doing ground-breaking research in how people judge and influence each other.  My point here is that these are obstacles that graduate students can overcome.

There is an answer…  a practical and affordable retention solution can support the right students to persist to graduation.  A system that bolsters the work our professional and faculty advisors are doing to support students.  Being able to find and engage students who are at-risk is advantageous, but so is having a system that automatically recognizes key accomplishments and benchmarks.  The return on investing in a solution can add significant tuition revenue.  More important, it’s difficult to put a monetary value on the impact to the university and future of the student, as well.

I have to share that this topic is close to my heart.  I almost left graduate school myself.  I realized early on in my clinical psychology program that I was not interested in being a therapist.  Furthermore, I was presented with a fantastic job offer that would have been hard to refuse.  A faculty mentor showed me the value of finishing my program.  Looking back, I made exactly the right decision.

Aviso Retention provides analytics, software and expertise to increase student retention and engagement.  Click here to learn more.

Is Technology replacing Advising?

Is Technology replacing Advising?

According to MarketWatch, by 2035 there will be 2.7bn students worldwide and in order to meet this demand we would need to build two universities per day over the next 20 years.  Couple this growth with tightening budgets in higher education and cuts have to occur somewhere.  Are you currently experiencing this in student services on your campus?

MarketWatch also indicates that EdTech will be a $252bn industry by 2020.  We can register students without a human interaction.  Students can get career or academic advice through search engines and phone apps.  It’s the Big Bang of EdTech, but if technology slowly replaces advising our retention crisis will only deepen.

Advising through technology with no human contact is largely transactional.  The truth is that many students would still achieve their academic goals with this type of advising.  However, we all know students vary by college and university and a majority of them require an interpersonal connection.

On the surface, computers are unable to replace the value of human interaction.

When you look a little bit deeper, we see that individuals seek out advising and student support roles because they care about people and this is their opportunity to shape the lives of others.

At the core, we have students who are facing new and unique challenges every day and require support from an actual person who is trained to drive their college experience.

The trick is providing technology that allows front-line student support to do their job effectively and efficiently.  Don’t replace technology with advising, rather provide smarter tools so advisors can do what they love.  The question becomes not, “Is technology replacing advising,” rather, “Which technology is ideal for my staff to effectively support students?”

If you value that human interaction on the advising front, then work to align a technology solution with campus culture, student success initiatives and the needs of your students.

Select technology that reflects campus culture.  You can purchase a wide range of data analytic products.  Deciding upon a complex solution without a campus culture to match and you could end up with superfluous data.

Align your student success initiatives with a retention solution.  Technology should mirror the student success initiatives you have or want to put into place.

Align technology with the needs of your students.  Institutions serve different types of students and it’s important to ensure the data that you are gathering and utilizing to engage students is most pertinent to your institution.

Student advising can be incredibly rewarding.  Connecting the dots for a student and working to constantly connect their hard work to the value of a degree and their future is necessary.  These conversations can happen through careful strategy and planning.  In other words, retention technology should allow you the time to think about how you will advance your students rather than trying to figure out who actually needs your support.

Aviso Retention provides analytics, software and expertise to increase student retention and engagement.  Click here to learn more.

Six Steps to Impacting First-Year Retention Now

Six Steps to Impacting First-Year Retention Now

The “first-year experience” is a hot topic in higher ed.  If you are focused on new student fall to fall retention, you are entering a critical time.  Most obstacles and doubts have likely surfaced by now and in the spring term they will start to cement.  Missing home, program of study, social integration and finances are just some factors that come into play.  Reflecting on the fall term and identifying the predominant obstacles will lead to more effective student support and increased persistence.

I have consistently found year after year that an entering cohort of students has its own personality.  Meaning, each cohort has their own unique characteristics.  This results in shifting strengths and challenges your students face.  I love this aspect of student retention – it keeps you on your toes.  Considering that fall cohorts are typically the largest of the year, it’s valuable to hone in on the trends that are impacting student success for that cohort.  As you dive into the spring term, modifying your support to meet those needs can be highly advantageous.

Here are 6 steps to impact first year retention:

  1. Look at trends in obstacles students are facing
  2. Identify common themes
  3. Shift resources to meet student challenges
  4. Collaborate and gain alignment on strategies to support students
  5. Share tools and approaches that have worked to help students overcome obstacles
  6. Identify the students who are facing these obstacles quickly

Look for trends in obstacles students are facing.  Discuss as a group what you are observing with your students while also pulling any quantitative data available.

Identify common themes.  Document 3 to 5 barriers keeping the themes student-focused (meaning, don’t blame the football team’s poor season).

Shift resources to meet student challenges.  Ensure that the size of the team or department is commensurate with the number of students who need support.

Collaborate and gain alignment on strategies to support students.  Utilize the collective wisdom of your team to document how to approach and navigate through your common themes.

Share tools and approaches that have worked to help students overcome obstacles.  If an approach doesn’t work, don’t give up.  It often takes a couple of times before you get it down.  Celebrate wins and publicize effective strategies.

Identify the students who are facing these obstacles quickly.  The best time to build skills and hone a student’s attitude is when they are face to face with their challenge.

If you’re lucky, a student will sit down with an instructor, advisor, coach or support staff and clearly articulate the concerns on their mind.  But don’t count on this to happen.  Engage, listen and poke around to flush out potential barriers to year two.  You’re the expert who can provide coaching and make the difference between a student achieving their academic goals or not.  Believe that you have the ability to make that difference and you will!!

Aviso provides software and analytics to increase student success and retention.  Click here to learn more.

How to Select Retention Software

How to Select Retention Software

If you are supporting students in higher ed then you likely could benefit from one of the many solutions currently available.  A great retention solution will do a couple of critical things for student success:

  1. Get the right student information in the right hands at the right time
  2. Eliminate grunt work so your focus is on quality student support

Whether your first-year retention is 90% or 60%, student advising and engagement is vital to the health of a university.  You have a wide range of options to explore.  This article focuses on 5 things that should be on your list when considering a retention solution:

Cost:  The solution you select should more than pay for itself.  Determine a reasonable expectation for an increase in retention (whether its total enrollment, first year retention or a specified sub-population) and ensure the resulting tuition gain is significantly greater than the cost of the software.

Implementation:  I hear about system fatigue a lot.  IT teams are always overloaded.  Faculty needs a break from new system integrations.  Student support staff are comfortable with what the antiquated system they are currently using.  The more complex your solution, the greater impact on resources.  Select a solution that has minimal impact on your IT team and can train your staff in less than a day.

On-going Admin:  The more complex a retention solution the more on-going admin support and maintenance you will need.  When you hire or reallocate a part or full time individual as an on-going administrator, you have to include this in your overall cost.

Type of Partnership: Do you prefer a collaborative partner with higher ed expertise or would you prefer to be left alone with the software?  Many solutions out there will have you pay extra for the “consulting” portion.  A true collaborative partner will be just as invested in supporting the achievement of established retention targets without piling on extra fees.

Features:  It’s going to be hard to find a solution that meets every single one of your needs.  Go for the solution that has your essential components and choose a partner that is nimble enough to build the extra features you need down the road.

There are several options out there to enhance how your faculty and staff engage students.  Include faculty, student support staff and IT in your decision-making process.  They will thank you in the end.

Aviso Retention provides analytics, software and expertise to increase student retention and engagement.  Click here to learn more.