Can Technology-Augmented Academic Advising Improve College Graduation...

Student Success

Can Technology-Augmented Academic Advising Improve College Graduation Rates?

By Tina Nazerian     Sep 29, 2017

Can Technology-Augmented Academic Advising Improve College Graduation Rates?

This article is part of the guide: Crossing the Finish Line: Stories on Student Success and What Colleges Are Doing to Get There.

According to a 2016 report by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, only 40 percent of students finish their bachelor’s degree within four years, and only 60 percent graduate from the college they began at within six years of starting. And while gaps in graduation rates across “race and ethnicity are narrowing,” those based on “gender and income are increasing.”

At the EdSurge meetup in Oakland on September 27, four panelists pondered questions about changing those statistics, and whether technology-augmented academic advising can make a difference. Joining us were Jazzie Murphy (Director of Academic Advising at Sacramento State), Hoori Santikian Kalamkarian (Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Community College Research Center), Dwight Smith (Associate Director of Programs at Beyond 12) and Charles Thornburgh (CEO at Civitas Learning). Here are some takeaways:

Graduation Goals, and Thinking Beyond Them

Murphy said it’s been a challenge for Sacramento State to meet its “lofty” goals for four-year graduation rates. More than 60 percent of the students are transfers, who don’t always follow a traditional four-year pathway, said Murphy. A transfer student herself, she added that there’s a moral obligation to students and their families to get them to graduate in a timely manner.

What’s helped her team, she said, are tools like Smart Planner, which shows and recommends students’ degree requirements. All the technology Sacramento State has adopted enhances the face-to-face work done with students, she said.

Yet college graduation is not “the finish line” for students, argued Smith. At Beyond12, coaches are talking to students about “college completion as a step in the process.”

Technology Has Its Place, But So Does Human Interaction

Academic advising tools promise to collect—and offer—an abundance of data and insights. Yet advisors are still looking to the research and industry sectors for guidance on what to do with that information, said Kalamkarian. Human interaction needs to be strategic and personalized, and should give students support “when they need it, how they need it.”

Because advising is not a one-size-fits-all model, advisors are “increasingly having to approach students with more open-ended questions, recognizing that there’s a broader array of issues that may be impacting their performance,” observed Kalamkarian. Helping to address that broader array of questions, she said, means that advisors have to be “doing a lot more than just academic advising.” That’s something she thinks research can support.

Thornburgh agreed that there’s a need for action and research at scale. He pointed out that students can be at risk for different reasons, such as finances, preparation, life and logistics, and not showing up or trying. “Those are completely different conversations,” he explained.

Different Types of Risk

The conventional thinking is that students with low GPAs are the most likely to drop out. But through working with Civitas Learning, Lone Star, a community college system in Houston, identified that they had an “enormous” number of students whose GPAs were above 3.0 who were dropping out in any given term.

“And yet, the way they thought about risk was academic risk,” he said, saying they were missing the high-performing students who were dropping out. Civitas Learning helped the community college system generate a campaign to reach out to these students.

*An earlier version of this article said Dwight Smith is the Assistant Director of Programs at Beyond 12. He is the Associate Director.

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