The Hobsons team and I are headed to ASU+GSV in Salt Lake City in a few weeks. I’ll be talking with business and education leaders about trends in higher ed. As I’ve been getting ready, I’ve been thinking a lot about student success. And software.

(Want to join the conversation with us at ASU+GSV? Learn how here.)

The link between software tools and student success has accelerated and been strengthened since 2012, when the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation first awarded funds to colleges interested in actively partnering with technology companies to collaborate on using technology tools specifically designed to improve student advising and rates of student retention.

EDUCAUSE and Achieving the Dream have been leading these efforts to help institutions explore both the promise and the risks of Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success (iPASS). Per the EDUCAUSE website: "iPASS is an integrative approach to student success that promotes shared ownership for educational progress among students, faculty, and staff. It encompasses services that help students formulate and advance toward educational goals, including advising, counseling, progress tracking, and academic early alerts. iPASS technologies can contribute by documenting and tracking students’ educational plans, improving data analysis, offering self-service resources that reduce advisor workloads, and triggering interventions based on student behavior or faculty input."

Ten years from now, when we look back, we are going to wonder how anyone graduated without data visualization tools, alert flags, online scheduling, predictive models, and virtual course scheduling.

It’s been awe-inspiring to have been an early participant in this new culture of evidence in education, where data is finally being used for more effective decision-making. Whether fostering more student achievement, or targeting interventions for the right place, at the right time, leading to improved institutional efficiencies, data are telling us a lot about the things we are doing, as well as showing us places where we can do better.

Even so, I need to say something.

When I think of student success I never, ever think of software first. Never.

No doubt, technology is amazing. It offers far better ways to store and retrieve information, facilitate communication, and automate administrative tasks. Learning analytics, assessment, content management, curricular tracking, assessments and performance support are all more available, more accessible and more targeted at specific points in the educational experience than ever before.

By applying technology to performance and learning problems, we can solve those problems. Inventions become innovations.

But the most important innovators are not the companies, app developers, data scientists, or ed tech visionaries.

The most important innovators in today’s student success are the people on campus. The individuals who wake up every morning and face the front lines of teaching and learning and advising. The faculty, advisors, tutors, peer mentors, counselors, registrars, enrollment managers, and deans. The students themselves, the ones at the center of our energies. This is the community engaged in solving problems and responding to opportunities, in novel ways, using human ingenuity. That is the very definition of innovation. And we can contribute to that innovation by producing tech tools that work in the service of student success.

Technology can’t really help a student graduate. Career exploration tools need a student interested in exploring. What good is a mobile app that students don’t use? An alert flag is not an intervention, it is only a prompt. An online appointment is useless if the participants don’t show up. A drag-and-drop academic plan isn’t much good if a student doesn’t follow it. A data visualization gathers virtual dust if someone isn’t looking at it, preferably with an eye towards transforming the status quo.

People make the magic happen. We are humbled by the everyday magic our partners can do with our software, every day, as they help students achieve their dreams of obtaining a college education. It’s an honor to be a part of that work.

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