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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Modeling an IT Strategy for Student Success | EDUCAUSE Review

"This article combines the perspectives of two institutions — the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and the University of Arizona (UA) — to focus on how universities should look at architecting their IT strategy for student success." reports author Jack Suess, vice president for IT and CIO for UMBC, and author Hank Childers, executive director for University Analytics and Institutional Research for UA. 

The issue of student success has risen to the forefront of public attention thanks in part to the Obama administration's goal of making the United States the world leader in four-year degree attainment among 25–34 year olds and the Gates Foundation and its emphasis on postsecondary success. If you type "student success initiative" into the Google search box, you will get 15,200 results, providing one indication of how widespread campus efforts to improve student success have become.

Increasingly, institutions are implementing a variety of third-party products, often in a rushed or ad-hoc manner, which can limit overall effectiveness if not part of a broader strategy. We believe that for institutions to fully benefit from their investments in student success and to position themselves for continued improvement, IT leadership must get engaged and develop an IT strategy that supports student success and can evolve with the institution's needs. 

Viewing Student Success From Different Perspectives 
Creating a comprehensive approach to student success requires understanding what student success means from the perspective of various campus stakeholders. While different institutions may define stakeholder groups and their responsibilities somewhat differently, we believe it is essential to consider the motivations and needs of students, faculty, advisors, academic administrators, institutional research (IR) and assessment personnel, and student affairs staff in planning a student success initiative.

Some stakeholders, such as instructors, students, and student affairs professionals, have a strong interest in real-time (defined as while the course is active) course-based information necessary to make immediate interventions. The system most identified with handling real-time interventions — often referred to as an early alert system — takes information from multiple systems and provides timely notifications to students and/or groups in the form of a digital intervention. For example, an assignment grade in the learning management system (LMS) might trigger a note to a student suggesting they make an appointment at the writing center. Other early alert systems might look at financial issues around unpaid tuition and trigger an intervention from a financial aid caseworker to discuss payment options.

A second group of stakeholders has an interest in taking a macro-level view of all student activity to understand it and the effectiveness of campus interventions. This group includes academic administrators, IR and assessment personnel, and student affairs professionals, who often oversee student support initiatives or report on the results. This area, which has lacked systemization, often has implemented programs without understanding their direct impact, other than monitoring macro statistics such as first-year retention or six-year graduation rate for signs of improvement. A recent area of interest looks at the flow of students through the university, identifying how students change academic pathways and what that means for time-to-degree.

A third group, student affairs staff and advisors, wants to provide students with personalized information to help them optimize their college experience in terms of:
  • supporting the student's individual development,
  • improving post-graduation outcomes around jobs and graduate school, and
  • lessening time-to-degree and student debt.
These efforts rely on predictive analytics to effectively inform students of the recommended sequence in which to take courses and potential course combinations that could prove too difficult for them to handle successfully.

Table 1 summarizes the motivations and system needs of different stakeholder groups. While we have listed each stakeholder group individually, we believe that there is a great deal of synergy between these stakeholder groups and encourage institutions planning student success initiatives to bring all stakeholders together and look at the problem holistically. 

Source: EDUCAUSE Review