Blog: The Educated Reporter

New Coach on Campus: Student Success and Support in Higher Ed

The main purpose of college is to transfer knowledge to students, but that requires getting them to the classroom… and actually keeping them there until graduation. Nationwide, less than 60 percent of college students complete a bachelor’s degree within six years.

Colleges need to do a better job of coaching prospective and current students through the process: registration, advising, navigating the financial aid system, along with balancing school, work and family. Undertrained and understaffed student services departments have taken note, and some have turned to private agencies to provide support.

InsideTrack is one of those specialists. Dave Jarrat, vice president of marketing, said InsideTrack does what many colleges don’t: It collects data on students, like everyone else, but actually uses the numbers and input provided by students and colleges to help improve the bottom line, graduating a higher percentage of students.

“If you’re trying to find a needle in the haystack, don’t make the haystack bigger,” Jarrat said. “There is plenty of data already available; let’s use what we already have.”

Among the tidbits InsideTrack has collected: Female students prefer guidance support from female practitioners, but males don’t care; health professions majors will respond to phone calls in the morning, while others prefer calls later in the day.

Jarrat was one of three panelists during “The New Coach on Campus” session at the EWA National Seminar held last month in Nashville, and moderated by Paul Fain of Inside Higher Ed.

Mark David Milliron, co-founder and chief learning officer for Civitas Learning, described how analytics and existing data are studied in the sports world. He offers the example of San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker. “Estimated possession value” can show the percentage of time his team will score if he passes left or passes right from the top of the key – it’s that specific. Why doesn’t higher education break down that kind of data to forecast a student’s performance?

Data can, and should, be used in academia to predict a student’s success, Milliron said. And if the data show a potential problem, colleges can intervene before it becomes an issue.

The ultimate goal should be to keep students engaged right through graduation, likening college to a video game.

“If you talk about people who design video games, they’ll talk about this zone of proximal engagement,” Milliron said. “The zone of proximal engagement is when a gamer is challenged just enough. If you don’t challenge them enough, they quit. If you challenge them too much, they quit.”

Angela Boatman, an assistant professor of public policy and higher education at Vanderbilt University, said colleges cannot just teach content. They need to implement programs that foster academic success, and she listed four ways:

  1. Create social relationships among students or between students and faculty;
  2. Provide academic clarity so students know exactly why they’re in college and what is their ultimate career goal; 
  3. Offer guidance as to the basic logistics of going to college;
  4. and Ensure college is an actual option by providing things like child care and transportation.

Just like Jarrat and Milliron, Boatman also agrees that colleges aren’t effectively using data. And the sad thing is that colleagues whose offices are right down the hall might already be sitting on that information.

“They don’t have the data from their own institution to be able to even say basic descriptive things about their students going through some of these programs,” Boatman said.

Ultimately, the goal is not to just offer advising to freshmen or once per semester. It should be available in real-time, perhaps as soon as a test score is entered into the university’s computer system. The red flag warning system, Milliron says, could immediately bring some much-needed intervention to struggling students.

“That signal is out there,” he said.


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