Student Success and Advising Lessons for Navigating Fall 2020

Eyes are on higher education institutions as they face daunting challenges this fall.

Will students be welcomed back to campuses as the pandemic continues? Will classes be online, in-person or some hybrid? Each institution is navigating these decisions carefully to determine the best choice for faculty, staff and students.

At the same time, awareness of racial injustice and equity gaps are at an all-time high. How will colleges and universities tackle issues of diversity and inclusion? How will the effects of racial violence and the protests that followed continue to impact students? What can institutions do to ensure all students have the capacity and support to be successful?

More than ever, advising and student success efforts are crucial.

We can look to some champion universities for answers on how they overcame obstacles and met ambitious goals – the finalists and winner of the Education Advances Award (EAA) for Student Success and Advising. Each year, Hobsons recognizes academic institutions that help all students realize their full potential. The lessons from Penn State University, Florida Atlantic University (FAU), and Webster University can provide a roadmap to success.

Penn State: A Coherent Strategy

As the 2020 EAA winner for Student Success and Advising, Penn State is recognized for its commitment to connect conversations and drive meaningful interventions on all its campuses.

A large, complex institution of 24 geographically dispersed campuses, Penn State faced challenges providing effective support to its 100,000 students. Turning to Starfish by Hobsons, Penn State successfully shifted from a homegrown system to one that enabled a comprehensive strategy to bring about transformational changes in its approach to student success.

Collaboration and communication broke down administrative silos and increased buy-in on a broad scale, including institutional leadership, advisors, faculty and students. Faculty members have become a critical part of each student’s support network. Now, 74% of students receive instructor feedback in Starfish. Student engagement with services such as tutoring, financial aid, and study abroad have experienced increases. Penn State designed innovative programs to address student food and housing insecurity and to mentor students in academic recovery. Data is used to guide proactive, personalized interventions for struggling students.

Collectively, these efforts to engage students across Penn State campuses are helping to eliminate roadblocks to success.

Meet the 2020 Education Advances Award Winner.

Florida Atlantic University: Relationships, Relationships, Relationships

Florida Atlantic University rebuilt their advising model, shifting from a purely course scheduling function to a relationship-building, proactive approach they call Appreciative Advising. They began to see positive results immediately. With advisor, student and systemwide buy-in for the new model, the frequency and quality of contacts between students and advisors quickly soared.

In addition to advisors, each student is assigned a personal librarian based on their major. And students placed on academic probation are matched with a professional academic coach and a peer academic coach.

When the university identified a gap in persistence and retention for undeclared students as compared to students with declared majors, they launched a new program, “Declarathon,” to help students identify a pursuit of study. Now, the number of excess hours reflecting unneeded, unused or unrelated class credits has dropped significantly.

Since launching Starfish six years ago, FAU has achieved a 36% increase in graduation rate for first-time college students. Transfer students with an Associate of Arts (AA) degree experienced a 45% increase in graduation rate.

Webster University: Changing Attitudes

A task force of faculty and staff members charged with improving retention and graduation rates recognized that Webster University’s expansive, global institution needed to invest in technology that would provide case management and an at-risk early alert system. Instead of University leaders telling advisors what they needed to do, the advisors asked administrators for the technology they needed to improve student outcomes.

With this kind of buy-in, it’s easy to see how two years later Webster University now boasts increases in retention, persistence and graduation. Webster is now seeing improvements in student persistence and retention across the board – not only for first-time freshmen, but also for incoming transfer students, sophomores, and juniors.

Webster University can now communicate more easily and work together seamlessly, despite its size and far-flung locations – a main campus in Webster Groves (St. Louis), Missouri; three extended campuses in the St. Louis area; 30 military campuses; 17 metropolitan locations; fully online programs; and seven non-U.S. campuses.

One member of Webster’s team said that Starfish has “made the University smaller.”

Navigating the Future of Student Success

Changing cultures. Building relationships. Making student success an institutional priority. These are all keys to measurable improvements in retention, persistence and graduation.

It’s more important today than ever to invest in America’s students and future leaders. Hopefully, the successes of these three universities will inspire other institutions’ efforts to tackle the challenges ahead. Starfish by Hobsons is here to support that journey.

Topics Student Success and Advising
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