Leveraging Advising Technologies to Address Achievement Gaps

Student Success

Leveraging Advising Technologies to Address Achievement Gaps

By Hoori Santikian Kalamkarian     Apr 9, 2018

Leveraging Advising Technologies to Address Achievement Gaps

This article is part of the collection: Innovations in Student Success: From Campus Collaboration to Tech Implementation.

Despite decades of well-intended reforms, achievement gaps across racial, socioeconomic and academic lines continue to persist in higher education. Underrepresented students are more likely to attend broad-access institutions with lower graduation rates compared to top-tier institutions, and they are generally less likely to transfer or complete a certificate or degree.

Student support services are essential for reducing these gaps in achievement, but they often face a host of organization and funding challenges. Technology-mediated advising is an increasingly popular reform that has the potential to offset these limitations and empower advisors and other support staff to more effectively reach underrepresented students.

Academic advising, counseling and tutoring—along with targeted programs such as TRIO and centers that serve first-generation students—can provide the social, emotional, academic and financial support that underrepresented students need to be successful in college. These resources are especially likely to bolster achievement among underrepresented students if support is integrated across services and delivered in a proactive and personalized way. However, high caseloads, limited funding, and organizational structures that silo advising, counseling, and targeted programs often make it difficult to achieve this ideal.

Technology-mediated advising can help by leveraging the robust data and efficient communication functions of education planning, early alert, predictive analytic, and other advising technologies to identify and intervene with students who need help, when they need it. Technology-mediated advising is intended to, at scale, ensure that all students receive the support that they need to be successful, but can also facilitate targeted support of racial groups, students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and other subpopulations.

Since 2012, the Community College Research Center (CCRC) has studied the implementation and early impact of technology-mediated advising at over 30 community colleges and four-year universities. Our data pinpoint four ways that institutions are strategically using advising technologies to identify students who need support and intervene accordingly.

1. Early alerts enable support staff to be responsive.

Early-alert technologies enable advisors and other support staff to respond to early signs of academic distress, such as not attending class or missing assignments. While typically these data get used by advising centers, we are seeing institutions build structures and processes that ensure staff from programs that target underrepresented students also receive and respond to this information. One success coach from a program that works with first generation students said the early-alert data is helpful.

“Quickly, when a faculty member raises a flag or a kudos, we have coaches linked to those students,” she said. “If somebody on my caseload gets flagged, I get notified of it. So I’m immediately on the phone with them, contacting them.”

2. Technology systems provide insight into subgroup differences.

Subgroup analyses of early alert and predictive analytic data can help identify emerging achievement gaps early. Colleges can conduct analyses that, as one administrator put it, aren’t especially sophisticated but are powerful for understanding the experiences of different gender, racial and income groups. Take early-alert systems, for example. Institutions can analyze these data to determine if subsets of the student population are experiencing more distress or getting more kudos than others. As the same administrator put it, these analyses can then guide the institution in terms of “where we need to pay our attention.” Support services can then target outreach efforts to these populations.

While identifying subgroup differences can help target supports, it is also important to caution against potential pitfalls. If these data are misinterpreted to pre-determine access to certain majors or in other ways limit options for students, we are likely to see greater racial and income disparity in higher education. As one administrator stated “We want to be very cautious in how we frame these conversations” so that these data do not reinforce existing biases.

3. Advising technologies help integrate support services.

Advising technologies allow support staff to electronically refer students to other services. Referrals can be structured so that the receiving staff member is also notified and can follow-up with the student. Our partner institutions are using these referral functions to better integrate supports and connect underrepresented students to relevant programs.

Watch the EdSurge on-demand webinar, “How Analytics Can Support Student Success in Higher Ed,” sponsored by Salesforce.org.

One advisor said that academic advising and other student services at her campus are so disconnected that her colleagues have limited knowledge of programs like TRIO and often assume that these services will pick up students who qualify. But, she said, “unless somebody tells them to go there they don’t know about it.”

With the addition of advising tools that either automatically refer students who self-identify needs or make it easier to make referrals, staff from academic and student affairs can more effectively work together to ensure students know about the supports that are available.

4. Degree, career planning tools facilitate discussion of students’ sense of purpose.

Research has shown that students who can articulate why they are in college and how a postsecondary experience aligns with their longer-term goals are more likely to persist towards a degree. Establishing a clear sense of purpose is especially critical for racial and socioeconomic minorities who are often the first in their families to attend college.

Degree and career planning tools empower advisors with information about students’ academic pathway, career interests, and workplace preferences that they can use to help students see how their course work and degree goals align.

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