4 Ways to Make Sure Your Students Feel Their Degrees Are Worth the Cost (Part Two)
This is the second part in our series, 4 Ways to Make Sure Your Students Feel Their Degrees Are Worth the Cost, by Pete Wheelan, CEO of InsideTrack
As students progress (or fail to), they need support in the forms of frequent feedback, updates on far they’ve come and how far they have to go, and monitoring systems to raise red flags for support staff if they get off track.
3. Practice co-requisite remediation. When students are underprepared for preliminary courses required for their degrees, they’re typically placed in remedial classes. The logic is sound: They can’t learn algebra without first understanding the concepts taught in pre-algebra. But a better solution for helping them catch up is to enroll them in co-requisite college courses and provide additional support.
Students in co-requisite English courses have succeeded at twice the rate of those taking traditional prerequisite English. In math, the success rate of students in co-requisite courses is five to six times of those in traditional remedial math. Dr. Tristan Denley presented findings that these benefits apply even with students whose ACT scores were as low as 13.
Complete College America is a leading nonprofit organization addressing this issue. Basing its work on research by Denley and others, its directors have developed the following six pillars, or steps, for building a successful co-requisite remediation program:
*Replace placement exams: An intake process that helps identify students’ academic and career goals, as well as their overall preparedness, is more beneficial.
*Don’t treat some as full students and others as remedial: If they’re at your school, assume they’re motivated and ready to learn. Place all students in college courses from the beginning, and offer support for those who need it.
*Provide co-requisite academic assistance: Co-requisite support, such as extra class sessions, labs, or tutoring provides underprepared students the boost they need to succeed in college-level courses.
*Ensure students can complete gateway courses in one year: Proper course sequencing and co-requisite support ensures more students can more quickly enter a course of study, increasing their overall chances of success.
*Create multiple math options for different degree programs: College algebra should not be the only math gateway course. For some majors, a statistics or other quantitative analysis course may be more appropriate.
*Use ongoing support to bridge students into program: Students’ need for support doesn’t end when they complete their gateway courses. Building and maintaining a system of ongoing support is essential to improving completion rates.
Traditional remedial courses can be discouraging. They add expense and time to an already expensive and time-consuming endeavor while providing little value. A co-requisite approach, on the other hand, empowers students and gets them on the road to success from day one.
4. Offer student success coaching. A study from the Stanford University School of Education found that retention and completion rates are 10 to 15 percent higher among students who receive one-on-one coaching. This kind of support includes guidance on nonacademic concerns, such as balancing school with work or family obligations, and ensures that students are aware of resources like financial aid and tutoring.
This improved success rate is echoed in a coaching initiative in Indiana. The 21st Century Scholars coaching initiative serves thousands of first-generation and low-income students across several public universities and the state’s community college system. This endeavor has increased retention rates by 15 percent over historical norms. Having just launched in fall 2014, the program’s results were almost immediate.
First-generation and low-income students are not the only ones who benefit from coaching. As the Stanford study found, coaching improves outcomes for all students, irrespective of age, gender, high-school grade-point average, SAT scores, and other demographic factors. The study also concluded that “coaching proved a more cost-effective method of achieving retention and completion gains when compared with previously studied interventions such as increased financial aid.”
The reality is that lack of academic preparedness and financial resources are not the primary reasons students fail to complete college. According to an analysis of more than 100,000 coached-student records, the primary reason traditional-aged students leave college is a lack of connection to the school community; for working adult students, it’s difficulty balancing work, family, and academic commitments.
Coaches help students develop the noncognitive abilities required to address these challenges — skills such as self-advocacy, time management, critical thinking, and communication. In doing so, they empower students to become more self-aware and self-directed in their learning, ultimately making them more successful.
Mass-Personalization of Support
Providing personalized support at scale may seem overwhelming or cost-prohibitive, but it is eminently doable with the right mix of pedagogy, analytics, technology, and cultural commitment. Institutions must resist the temptation to dive in too quickly before fully understanding their current student-support capabilities and the root issues affecting student outcomes.
Institutions interested in providing “mass-personalized” support should begin with a thorough needs assessment that includes the following critical components.
Choose a Framework for Analytics
There are two models for catering to a student’s need: an at-risk model and an impact model.
*At-risk model: Big data and predictive analytics lead most institutions to focus on predicting which students are “at-risk” and focuses resources on those deemed most likely to fail. The result is often an overly narrow focus that neglects the needs of a large percent of the student population.
*Impact model: By focusing on the ultimate impact upon student outcomes, this model expands the landscape of possibility beyond “at-risk” students and shifts focus to the multiple factors contributing to student success.
By identifying which interventions will have the greatest opportunity to create positive outcomes, institutions can serve more students with the same resources.
The “impact model” approach also normalizes support resources as something for everyone, not just “at-risk” students who are expected to fail. The stigma created by directing support only to specific demographics decreases the likelihood that students will engage. Normalizing support means showing them that asking for help is part of a normal student experience.
This is called “prescriptive” analytics. Unlike predictive analytics, prescriptive analytics takes situational data and tells you what to do in a given situation to change the outcome. This is the opposite of a one-size-fits-all approach, as the “prescription” is tailored to each student.
Begin Addressing the Whole Student
Students are more than the demographic buckets so many institutions sort them into. For example, one student — a first-generation single mom in the military — falls into several demographic “buckets.”
If you were to focus on one “bucket” for this individual, you would miss other opportunities to connect with her. Understanding this student’s situation holistically means empowering the support team to tailor its approach in a way that speaks to specific needs and preferences.
While this may sound like a lengthy, laborious process, tailoring support to the student saves time down the line. Over time, students become more responsive to messages, more likely to follow through on tasks, and less likely to wait until the last minute to seek help. The tailored-to student will build the skills, habits, and self-sufficiency that lead to long-term success.
Challenge Existing Assumptions
Most institutions are comfortable supporting students face-to-face, over the phone, and via email. But what about texting? Or social media? Or even mobile apps? These tools may better meet a student’s needs and can also work in concert to drive students to a particular type of interaction.
It’s important to challenge your assumptions when building a tailored support system. Some factors to consider:
*The student: Who is most likely to be positively affected?
*The student support team: Who is the right person with the necessary skills, personality, and relationship with the student to deliver impact?
*Timing: When is the best time to reach the student? When is information most likely to be relevant and useful?
*Modality: What communication channel is most likely to resonate with the student and encourage engagement?
*Content: What is the message? How does the language, information, or tone need to be tailored?
Address Change Management and Organizational Culture
Students don’t care about the silos within an institution. That’s why it’s important to view the organization from the student perspective and bridge any silos that may contribute to confusion or frustration.
Everyone shares the same goal of student success. Introduce changes in recognition of this fact to ensure a truly student-centered operation.
Prioritize Training, Professional Development, and Accountability
Building a full-scale, successful student support system involves more than just hiring or training coaches or advisers. The student support team already in place may have the necessary tools and skills to deliver maximum student impact. But it still might feel like something is missing.
Cross-functional support and buy-in are required to be successful. Senior leaders must prioritize time for high impact practices such as training and observation. For example, an institution may implement a process for measuring quality of student-adviser interactions. These interactions may even be debriefed by a trained manager and incorporated into the adviser’s professional development plan.
But to truly deliver impact at scale, the institution may need to make time for such observations and debriefs to happen twice as often. And perhaps the manager needs to be observed delivering feedback to his team and supported in delivering the best possible professional development and guidance.
Be Aware of Scope Creep and Role Changes
These are instances when retraining or clarification will be necessary.
Employees might have been hired for a particular role or skill set, but then — through lateral moves or promotions — find themselves ill-equipped for their current responsibilities. In such instances, an outside perspective may help assess the situation and perform a course correction before it’s too late.
Embrace the Role of Testing and Feedback
Regardless of whether an institution chooses to build its own program to deliver tailored student support or enlists the support of outside consultants or student support professionals, success requires a commitment to continuous improvement.
The willingness to look at underlying beliefs and assumptions is essential for uncovering the root issues shaping student and institutional success.
The bottom line is this: Higher education stakeholders are increasingly concerned with outcomes, and it is incumbent upon institutions to address these concerns by ensuring students, parents, and others that their investments in higher education are worthwhile.
Broadening your students’ outlook and understanding of the larger world by helping them become more knowledgeable, productive citizens is certainly a critically important and worthwhile endeavor. But if you don’t also help those students reach their academic, professional, and personal goals, and set them up for success after graduation, you’re serving only half your purpose.
Pete Wheelan, CEO of InsideTrack, has dedicated his career to leading mission-driven, high-growth companies focused on helping individuals live up to their full potential. Before joining InsideTrack, he served as chief operating officer and chief revenue officer at Blurb, a groundbreaking leader in unleashing creative expression through self-published books.