Can Making College Completion Paths More Personalized Increase Student Success?

Advances in technology have made personalization easier. Our online shopping experiences are personalized. Our email clients are personalized. Our social media news feeds are personalized.

The same is true in some aspects of higher education. Within post-secondary classrooms, using technology to tailor a student’s experience in higher education so it matches each learner’s goals, needs, strengths, and challenges is a widely practiced approach. The shift to this approach has yielded greater engagement and higher rates of classroom success. Yet, few facets outside of instruction are personalized for students, which can impact the efforts of faculty members and instructors.

Increasingly, colleges and universities are addressing this challenge by implementing technology enabled advising efforts, also known as integrated planning and advising for student success (iPASS). This advising reform supports college completion by helping students stay on the path to graduation and offering alerts, interventions, and guidance for doing so; while giving advisors and faculty members more information about a learner’s overall progress to enable greater success in individual courses.

Technology enabled advising combines: advising, degree planning, alerts, interventions, student communication, cross-departmental communication, and predictive analytics to help students navigate the path to a certificate or degree and determine in advance whether a student is at risk of dropping or failing out. Advising enhanced by technology assesses learners’ individual abilities, needs, and plans — much the same way adaptive, blended, or personalized learning might do in a classroom. Counselors, academic advisors, and faculty advisors can then better advise students with course selection. As a result, students are more informed about where they are in their educational path and what they need to do to complete the journey — empowering them to seek support they need.

So far, the efforts around more personalized approaches to advising are promising. A study published by Stanford University titled, “The Effects of Student Coaching in College” found completion increased by four percent with advising reform efforts. These initiatives were found to be more cost effective as well. At Middle Tennessee State University, advising reform efforts have led to a five percentage point increase in first-year retention in two years. Other institutions have also seen significant gains. Arizona State University saw its graduation rate increase by 11.6 percent in a four year period.

Pedagogical innovation that personalizes learning to fit the individual is certainly important. That kind of personalization can also be applied, outside the classroom, to other aspects of the student's educational path. Technology enabled advising is one opportunity to do so by allowing the student and multiple people across an institution to work in concert to reach completion successfully.

Ana Borray is the director of iPASS implementation services at EDUCAUSE. Follow her on Twitter @ABorray.

Nancy Millichap is a program officer with the EDUCAUSE initiative Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC), which makes grants aimed at dramatically increasing college readiness and completion through applied technology.