Improved Planning and Advising Help Students Succeed

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Montgomery County Community College, like many institutions across the country, is always looking for ways to improve student access, success, and completion. A grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation allowed us to launch an Integrated Planning and Advising Services initiative in 2012. This grant enabled us to employ a variety of technology solutions to build on the recent redesign of our student advising process in order to improve advising and better serve our students. We see early indications that our planning and advising work has resulted in improved student success and satisfaction, ultimately helping students on their path to earning their degree or certificate.

Our initial work included three components: an early alert system that enables faculty and advisors to monitor progress and identify at-risk behaviors; an educational planning tool that allows each student to map out his or her entire degree or certificate program; and a student dashboard system that enables students to go to a single source for their financial aid, Blackboard engagement, early alert, and education planning information. The information on the student dashboard can be shared with advisors to further conversations between advisor and student.

The second phase of our initiative enables us to extend the College's student success planning and advising design to include career and financial planning tools in order to deepen and broaden our students' use of educational planning, leverage predictive analytics for insights on student retention and completion, and validate student success initiatives through analytics. One of the College's goals is to use the insights gathered to develop more customized interventions for at-risk students.

We have seen a number of positive results. There has been an increase in student persistence as students gain greater access to planning resources and as they receive greater feedback on their progress. We've also seen increases in full- and part-time persistence rates from 2011 through 2015 for all new and continuing students. For part-time students, the College has experienced an 8 percent increase in persistence from fall to spring and a 7 percent increase from fall to fall. For full-time students, we've seen a 3 percent increase in persistence from fall to spring and a 4 percent increase from fall to fall. This means more students are continuing their studies and progressing towards their degree or certificate.  

We've also seen students' perception of advising improve. A recent survey found that the College scored above the benchmark and above our peer group on several key advising-focused areas: Early Connections, Clear Academic Plan and Pathway, Effective Track to College Readiness, and Academic and Social Support Network.

The faculty response to these tools and processes is also extremely positive. Over eight consecutive semesters, 90 percent of our faculty has participated in mid-term reporting, up from 73 percent prior to the implementation of our Student Success Network. In fact, this past fall, at the request of our faculty, we changed the way in which class attendance is reported. As a result, 93 percent of faculty reported this data by the deadline required for financial aid disbursement, compared to an average of 63 percent under the old model.

For the next step in implementation, we will build out the career exploration and financial planning components of our Student Success Network, and will continue to add analytics. This work will complement our “Student Success Matters” resource: an online, open-source, interactive series of free courses we developed to educate students in the areas of financial, civic, and digital literacies.

Montgomery County Community College's student success work would not be possible without strong institutional commitment to our students. All of our student success work is focused on strengthening processes, and improving communication and messaging to and with our students. The technology is not driving this work, but it is a tool that can help us better serve our students on their path to earning their degree or certificate.  

This post originally appeared on Impatient Optimists on March 9, 2016.

Celeste Schwartz is the Vice President for Information Technology at Montgomery County Community College. In addition to her technology focus, Dr. Schwartz provides leadership support for the College’s Sustainability and Student Success initiatives and oversees Institutional Research.