Throughout the past decades, research has shown that student retention rate is greatly affected by the quantity and quality of interactions with peers, faculty, and staff. According to Charlie Nutt, NACADA’s Executive Director, academic advising is at the very core of successful institutional efforts to educate and retain students, and it provides an essential connection between students and supportive representatives of a college or university. For institutions looking to support low-income or underserved populations, academic advising can be extremely beneficial as well. In fact, a recent study by the US Department of Education found that the institutions that have the highest completion rates for Pell-eligible students also have strong student support systems like academic advising.
There are multiple definitions of academic advising and what the overall outcomes should be, but according to NACADA, most professionals generally agree that academic advising should be a collaborative process between the advisor and the student, helping students to improve their study and life skills, enhancing critical thinking and reasoning, explore their interests and careers goals, and develop decision making skills.
With increased budget cuts and upticks in enrollment, it can be difficult to fund an academic advising program that provides face-to-face support for every student. A survey by NACADA found that US universities, on average, had an advisor-to-student ratio of 1:367, down from 1:282 in 2003. As you would imagine, it would be a very cumbersome task for one advisor to successfully oversee 367 students without help from technology. Because of this, it’s crucial to find ways to utilize technology to support a greater number of students while continuing to improve upon academic advising techniques and support.
At the Community College Research Center, focus groups found that students just “want someone to tell them what to do” when it comes to higher education support. Often times, students are struggling to balance schoolwork, a part-time job, and adjusting to living on their own – leaving little time for academic planning, time management, and career preparation.
Today, almost all institutions are using technology in some way to support their academic advising program. However, there are still many steps and improvements institutions can take to improve advising by increasing the overall quality of support for all students, as well as the effectiveness of the academic advising program in general. We took a look at the latest techniques and research from higher education institutions to compile a set of 5 ways your institution can use technology to improve academic advising.
- Use data to drive (and continually improve) your strategy.
For many years, access to student data has been a struggle for higher education staff. By identifying a safe a secure way in which real-time student data can be accessed by advisers, like CSU Fullerton’s and Virginia Commonwealth University’s programs, advisers can identify potential issues and reach out for support before it’s too late.
How do you know what signs to look for in the data? The best way is to look back at your historical data and look for trends among students that fell behind (delayed graduation dates) or dropped out. If your institution doesn’t currently have the ability to access the data, you can also use research and best practices from other institutions that have used their historical data to identify trends, such as:
- Students who haven’t registered for the next term
- Students who are behind on a bill or payment
- Students who have past-due forms for federal financial aid
- Students whose grades have fallen below departmental thresholds
- Students who are close to graduation and have outstanding requirements
- Students who need to register for a major requirement
Once these trends are identified, advisors can reach out – whether that’s for an in-person meeting, or a video chat online. And as VCU noted, the use of technology makes it much easier to track a larger amount of students and ensure outreach campaigns are initiated.
- Work with the financial services department to utilize financial data to assist in your academic advising strategy.
Poor academic performance isn’t the only warning sign of a student in danger of dropping out or falling behind in school. Financial troubles play a large role in affecting retention rates, so recognizing warning signs in this area can make a huge difference.
Georgia State developed their own Financial Management Center that uses technology to identify students that are at a financial risk of dropping out. The system utilizes signs like late payments or past due dates on financial aid paperwork to alert advisers so that they can reach out to provide support. Arizona State University’s advising system not only captures financial aid data, but it also captures data from residency halls and campus police to look for behavior problems that a student may be having.
With low-income students and underserved populations, this data is crucial, as financial troubles are often the number one reason why low-income students drop out. With these types of warning signs, a simple text may not be the best option to support students. In these cases, a more effective strategy would be setting up on video chat or in-person appointment to get to the root of the problem and offering solutions like additional aid opportunities or on-campus job openings.
- Develop an outreach plan that utilizes automatic communication software.
Once trigger points are identified, you can develop automatic campaigns to reach out to students. For example, if you’ve identified a group of students that haven’t registered for the next term, you can develop an email campaign through marketing automation tools, using logic like “resend if not opened” to ensure the information gets in front of the student.
Email isn’t the only way to reach out to students. Texting campaigns have become increasingly popular among many institutions. A study by Dr. Benjamin Castlemen, an Assistant Professor at UVA and the Founder of Nudge Solutions Lab at UVA, found that 86% of students reported that a text message prompted them to complete a task they hadn’t done yet. Furthermore, less than 3% of students opted out of receiving regular text messages during a summer melt campaign.
In addition to proving the effectiveness of texting campaigns, Dr. Castlemen’s research also showed that texting had the biggest effects for students in the middle of the GPA distribution, which could refer to students that are in the “murky middle”. Studies have identified the “murky middle” as a group of students who complete their first year with a GPA between 2.0 and 3.0, but still stand a chance of dropping out before they graduate. According to the Education Advisory Board, this is the group that advisors should be focusing on the most.
By utilizing communication software that allows for texting based off triggers, advisors can reinforce their messaging and reach out to set up one-on-one meetings if needed.
- Utilizing videos to make advising accessible to all types of students.
As online courses continue to grow in popularity, advisers need to find ways to provide the same quality of support to students that aren’t able to meet in person. The use of video for advising, whether that’s through an institution-supported video software or a free video-chat software like Zoom, is crucial to providing to same level of support to online students.
In an article by George Steele, an Academic Advising professional, he outlines the strategy of taking a “flipped advising approach” and utilizing technology to support that approach. By creating videos that students can access 24/7, students are able to explore various career paths on their own time, while still being able to have different paths explained to them through video.
Using this strategy, students would complete modules ahead of advising appointments, which might include pre-recorded videos (Loom is a great free tool for this), reading materials, or online exercises/quizzes that will help guide the advising appointment, making it more useful and effective. For some, video chatting can be somewhat awkward at first, so having a set of goals for the appointment and context into the student’s needs can help ease nervous feelings.
- Establish consistency to support students’ questions and needs.
As many know, the bureaucracy of higher education institutions can be difficult to navigate. There are a wide array of departments and staff members that are responsible assisting with various issues, and it can be hard for students to nail down the correct person to contact in a timely manner.
By establishing a “hub” that students can come to for all advising-related questions (including resources for career planning and financial aid deadlines), you can develop a trusting relationship with students where they feel supported.
Making all of these resources available online for instant download is important for today’s generation, as they are accustomed to instant gratification when it comes to looking for answers online. In addition to digital resources, establishing a consistent time where students can speak with an advisor online in real-time can help students if they feel lost or need advice on a certain issue. Maria Lanza-Gladney, an Academic Advisor and Program Coordinator at Drexel University, developed “Mondays with Maria”, where she would designate specific times where students could chat with their advisor through an instant messenger tool for instant answers to questions. She found that this offering was very effective, and it allowed students to mark down a time in their calendar where they knew they could ask questions. Additionally, students were reminded of this time through emails and their portal in case they forgot.
Many institutions vary in what types of resources they have available for their academic advising program, including funding, staffing, access to data, and available software. While some universities may have the ability to build a custom predictive analytics software, others may need to relay on less-advanced tools. In either case, all institutions can utilize at least one of the strategies above to take steps to improving their academic advising program, and in turn improving the overall success of students.
Comevo is excited to announce that it will be launching it’s very own software service, Navigate℠, to support academic advising through technology. Navigate℠ is a virtual advisory tool that uses SmartForks℠ to streamline face to face advising appointments by asking the students questions. Based on their answers, students are led to a different path of questions and ultimately led to the correct resources they need. It also can be used to provide data to an advisor prior to their one-on-one meeting, offering the student and advisor more time to get the heart of the students issues much faster thus allowing the advisors to meet with more students in a shorter amount of time.
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