Morgan State University, officially designated as Maryland’s preeminent public urban research university, is the largest HBCU in Maryland with nearly 8,000 students on their urban campus in northeast Baltimore, MD. Students who attend Morgan State are mostly first-time, full-time African American students, many of whom are first generation college students. More than 90 percent of Morgan State undergraduates receive some type of financial aid, with 60 percent eligible for Pell funding. More than 65 percent of undergraduate students test into developmental English, reading, and mathematics courses.
Morgan State was the only HBCU to win a $100,000 grant from the Gates Foundation for the implementation of Integrated Planning and Advising Services (IPAS) technology in 2013, which enabled them to purchase Starfish. Their goal was to improve student retention, persistence and completion through higher-quality advising and increasing students’ utilization of campus resources. But for Dr. Tiffany Mfume, Assistant Vice President for Student Success and Retention, and her team at Morgan State, change wouldn’t be possible without the involvement of the university’s faculty.
Here, Dr. Mfume speaks to five strategies that can promote faculty adoption of student success technologies.
Strategy 1: Start at the Top
For Morgan State, it started with securing grant funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2003. As Dr. Mfume reports, “We had high visibility. We won the grant, our president Dr. David Wilson relished the victory, and that became a soft mandate." The buy-in really started at the top, supported by a good tool, a good solid solution.”
Strategy 2: Know Your Faculty
Following advice from Bowie State University (another Starfish campus) to make sure faculty don’t feel overwhelmed, Morgan State launched Starfish with only two automated alerts from other campus systems, neither of which were triggered by academic performance or grades. They left that up to the faculty to report.
“We really wanted faculty to use their discernment. We had confidence that if we could get our faculty into the training, they could figure it out. We do two progress surveys per term, and we didn't ask faculty to clear any flags. We didn't want the process to be too complicated."
Strategy 3: Build Connections
“Starfish has really brought us together as a campus, and the students have caught on,” says Dr. Mfume. “The RDs, the coaches, the advisors, the faculty... we are all on the same page in a way that we never have been before. We give better advice to the student and share our notes with one another.”
Morgan State students have even coined the term “StarSNITCH” because of the transparency and accountability built into the Starfish tool." This level of connection has another aspect: faculty report that students respond better to messages received through Starfish, since they know it’s no longer a one-on-one issue.
Strategy 4: Show the Impact
Dr. Mfume encourages other universities to include Institutional Research teams as part of the student success committee or task force. “Data excites me because we all have theories and hypotheses, but we need objective analysis and validation. I don’t design our evaluations, I just say to our IR team, ‘We need to know if this effective.’"
For example, for the first two years, less than 100 percent of faculty were submitting student feedback through Starfish, which gave the Office of Institutional Research (OIR) a comparison group. “This year, we have the best data that we’ve ever seen, and the bottom line is that grades are likely to improve when the student has received Starfish flags or feedback before the end of the semester. That’s amazing; every semester it’s like that.”
The OIR at Morgan State found a negative correlation as well: Grades went down from midterms to final if the faculty member chose not to use Starfish. “The correlation is in both directions. Students who looked okay at midterm time, they slipped down,” exclaims Dr. Mfume. “We can conclude that Starfish feedback is a significant predictor on our campus. Even Kudos count.”
Strategy 5: Award Excellence
When Morgan State applied for the 2017 Education Advances Award for Student Success, sponsored by Hobsons, Dr. Mfume knew immediately what she would do if they won. She used the prize money to offer five $500 technology awards to faculty “super users.” Those awards were presented in October 2017.
You can hear more from Dr. Mfume about faculty engagement strategies and ways to improve student outcomes, by downloading our Student Success Spotlight webinar here.
Morgan State University is a co-winner of the 2017 Hobsons Education Advances Award for Student Success.