Lots of Talk, Little Action for Academic Advising and Planning Technology

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Despite debates over the ROI of college, a degree from U.S. higher-ed institutions remains a gateway to economic opportunity. But many students get off track when it comes to graduating. Only 59 percent those who begin studying at four-year colleges and universities graduate within six years. At community colleges, just over 30 percent of students who begin a two-year degree program complete it within three years.

Academic advisors play a critical role in helping students stay the course to graduation, but budget cuts and enrollment increases have made these individuals harder to access for many students. While 82 percent of colleges and universities report that student retention and success are part of their strategic plan, only one in five believe their institution achieves an “ideal advising situation.”

These numbers are the result of the first annual survey on academic advising and planning in higher education from Tyton Partners, a Boston-based consulting group. “We see a big disconnect between institutions' aspirations and ability to execute against that,” says Gates Bryant, a partner at Tyton.

Survey Says

The latest Tyton research focuses on how higher-ed institutions are using advising and planning technology. With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and in collaboration with National Association of Student Personnel Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA), National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), and the Global Community on Academic Advising (NACADA), Tyton surveyed 1,400 administrators, advisors and faculty last fall. Bryant says this is the largest survey to date on academic advising.

The survey’s goal is to understand the rate of adoption of planning and advising solutions in three categories: degree planning and audit, analytics and reporting, and early alerts for at-risk students. These three groups make up what the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation refers to as iPASS (Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success).

Only 12 percent of the institutions studied report widespread use of all three technology solutions, but the results of the survey suggest that implementing them together can improve planning and advising at higher-ed institutions.

Some of the most commonly used technologies include early alert systems Starfish and GradesFirst as well as degree-planning tool Ellucian Degree Works, according to Bryant. He says these kinds of technologies allow academic advisors to shift from a transactional role to a more relationship-based, career counseling role. If technology can help make sure students sign up for the right number of credits, academic advisors can spend more time helpings students make smart, big-picture decisions about their futures.

Ripe for the Taking

While adoption for integrated planning and advising services is low so far, some schools are seeing early signs of success. Georgia State in particular has become a poster child for predictive analytics. The school increased retention rates by five percent and erased the achievement gap between low-and high-income students. Bryant says Colorado State provides another model example of integrating technology to support planning and advising in "the way in which they have effectively collaborated between advising and tech department. The intersection of technology and process is critical."

Tyton’s data is free and publicly available, and the report includes a self-assessment activity to help institutions plan their advising reform efforts.

Bryant stresses that the research is meant to lay the foundation for further analysis in academic advising. “Over a longer period of time, we hope to establish a tipping point for advising reform. At what point are institutions really focused on building these ideal environments as opposed to talking about it in strategic plans?” He adds that another goal of the research is to establish a macro-level connection between various approaches to advising reform and student outcomes. “We’d like to build data set that makes that connection.”

Disclosure: The Gates Foundation has supported some of EdSurge’s research and projects.

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