The Evolution of Student Success
In the past, student success wasn’t really top of mind for most higher education institutions. What mattered most was enrollment numbers, tenured professors, grants and other metrics of success. These were bragging rights, differentiators campuses could use to recruit more students and gain the admiration (and high rankings) of industry experts. Things have changed considerably over time, as these are no longer the benchmarks of success.
The term “student success” came to be as institutions began to focus more of their attention on the students rather than their infrastructure. In order to be considered successful, students would have to succeed as well. How “success” was defined was based on more tangible metrics, such as graduation rates, time-to-graduation, postsecondary degrees and job placement. These are easy to measure and federal and state funding is now predicated on these results.
Where there is money, so will be the focus. As rankings and funding help keep institutions viable and attractive, the student’s success has transitioned merely from graduating to embracing the student’s entire educational journey from application acceptance through graduate and alumni status. It is in the institution’s best interest to put the student’s best interest first and foremost.
The Four-Year Myth
Every student enrolls in school with the dream and belief that they will graduate and go on to do great things. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen for every student. In one study by the National Center for Education Statistics, 60 percent of first-time, full-time students who began seeking a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year institution in the fall of 2008 completed the degree at that institution by 2014. The 6-year graduation rate was 58 percent at public institutions, 65 percent at private nonprofit institutions, and 27 percent at private for-profit institutions.
Complete College America found the same results, with most college students completing their bachelor’s degree in six years, as opposed to four. Their report, “Four-Year Myth,” said, “Students and parents know that time is money. The reality is that our system of higher education costs too much, takes too long and graduates too few.” It also found that at most public universities, only 19 percent of full-time students earn a bachelor’s degree in four years. “Even at state flagship universities – selective, research-intensive institutions – only 36 percent of full-time students complete their bachelor’s degree on time.”
What are the reasons? The report believes it is due to the “inability to register for required courses, credits lost in transfer and remediation sequences that do not work, and students taking too few credits per semester to finish on time.” These extra two years is expensive. For every extra year of a public four-year college, students or parents can expect to pay an additional $22,836. It’s no wonder why so many students simply give up.
Six years and up to $50,000 more than what was budgeted is simply too much. Students aren’t seeing the value and many are opting to enter the workforce instead of enrolling in college. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center backs this up, finding that despite increasing high school graduation rates (82 percent) and the massive increases in federal aid, the number of students enrolling in colleges and universities continues to decline by one to two percent year over year.
The Student Challenge
The long-term viability of higher education institutions is highly dependent on enrollment of new students. In order to help them along their journey and give them every opportunity to succeed, institutions are implementing many strategies and investing in modern technology.
There appears to be a widening gap between many institutions and the students they seek to serve. Most institutions have stuck to the tried and true methodologies and infrastructures to support students while students have grown up with innovative technologies. They are mobile, tech-savvy and expect on-demand capabilities. Institutions have been slow to respond, continuing to offer online course registration, email and mail correspondence, advisor meetings, and manual paperwork.
Students often enter these institutions with high hopes but no clear pathway towards success. They are without the immediate guidance of parents and are still learning responsibility. Managing coursework along with all of the manual tasks and to-dos can be overwhelming. Students frequently enroll in classes that may not qualify for financial aid or fulfill degree requirements, increasing costs and delaying on-time graduation. They change majors or colleges without understanding the impact on their 4-year plan. They miss critical emails from administrators and advisors, fall behind on tasks and the snowball gets larger.
Helping Students Succeed
Higher learning institutions should recognize the relationship between the challenges of its students and student outcomes. Anything the institution can do to remedy these issues will surely improve student success. It will require investment into modern technology and it most definitely will require institutions to meet students where they are, on the channels and devices they use.
A school’s student information system is the heartbeat of the institution. It houses all of the student data from application through alumni status. Platforms such as Oracle’s PeopleSoft Campus Solutions is a highly functional database for backend processes. The problem, however, is that this information is often relegated to administrators. Students have been left out and are therefore highly dependent on these administrators for their every move.
For institutions wanting to truly engage and partner with students to maximize student success, there must be a shift from storing this information in the back office to bringing it to the fingertips of students. Enabling students to connect with their information in order to complete tasks and chart their own journeys is perhaps the most significant boon that institutions can offer its students.
Students can be self-sufficient in most areas of their educational journey – mapping out their goals, tracking their progress, completing required tasks and communicating with their schools. The keys are to make the SIS information transparent and accessible via a mobile device. The fewer walls between the student and their information, the more likely the student will engage in their own educational journey and take the steps necessary to reach their personal goals.
The Features Students Want
When institutions recognize the power of data in the hands of students, amazing things can happen. Students can do more than we often give them credit for and increasingly, they are asking for more self-reliance. They are used to finding information, completing tasks and tracking their efforts on mobile apps in real or near-real time. They don’t want to wait, they don’t want unnecessary steps or burdens, and they don’t want to rely on administrators for every step of their journey.
Institutions can offer students incredible tools, such as the ability to chart their degree requirements on an app so they can see exactly what courses they will need to take and when, including prerequisites and core classes. They can play with “what-if” scenarios to see how any changes or modifications to their courses or area of focus will impact their goals. From there, students should be able to customize their schedules to fit their lifestyle, particularly those students who work and/or have families.
Of course, as the student progresses, they should be able to track their progress. When they can see what they have accomplished and the next steps they need to take, they are much more likely to stay on course. For financial aid students, this is particularly important as there are often confusing regulations on which courses qualify for financial aid. When institutions can automate the financial aid eligibility checks, they are able to notify students of any ineligible courses in time for those students to make changes to their schedules. This can have a dramatic impact on costs and time to graduate when students are only taking the courses they need to fulfill their degree requirements.
Communication is another feature institutions often overlook. Most students are using their mobile devices for virtually every activity and to communicate with each other. Institutions must recognize the students’ desire to use that same capability to communicate with their schools.
Email is not something many young students prefer to use and schools know how challenging email can be to communicate sensitive information. Instead, smart institutions are communicating with students in a different way – using a message center similar to banks. These message centers are FERPA-compliant and schools can send push notifications to the students’ mobile devices alerting them of a new message in their Message Center.
These push notifications can serve as friendly reminders, advising students of unfinished tasks or suggesting next steps to help them stay on track. Push notifications are well-received when they are encouraging, make life easier, alert us to what matters, and reminds us to finish tasks. It’s a modern way to guide students along their educational journey, where they remain in control yet have a gentle nudge to support them as they navigate their degrees.
Student Success = Institution Success
It isn’t a complicated formula: when students succeed, the institution succeeds. However you define success, you can be certain your students’ success will play a major role in how well you achieve it. Investment in your students always has high ROI. Take the steps necessary to bring your institution into the modern era. While 2017 is already in full swing, it’s never too late to make the investments necessary to ensure both your institution and your students have the best opportunity to succeed.
By giving students the technology they need to access the data they require, institutions are ensuring the success of both the student and the school. Students want mobility, access and self-sufficiency. They want to perform tasks, stay informed, and take control of their educational journeys from the convenience and ease of their mobile devices. Unlock your SIS and give them the best student experience across all of their devices. Your administration will thank you and your students will be poised to reach their goals.