Small campuses focus on retaining students with the help of technology

Estrella Mountain Community College and Paul Smith’s College used a data-mining company based in Virginia, Starfish Retention Solutions, to pinpoint which students were struggling academically and in danger of dropping out of school.

John Burke, vice president for business and finance for Paul Smith’s College, said providing much-needed help to struggling students wasn’t just in the students’ best interest, but also the institution’s financial stability.

“We have to know that the investments we make to help students succeed are going to pay off,” Burke said.

The retention software used at Paul Smith’s improved student retention by 12 percent in 2010, according to the college, with the most dramatic improvement in sophomore-to-junior year transitions.

And that 12-percent bump has increased campus revenue by $540,000.

College officials also reported a drop in the number of students in its “academic recovery” program. With faculty, instructors, and counselors being able to more easily track students with consistently low grades, students in “academic recovery” dropped by 30 percent last year.

Estrella officials used the Starfish software to find and help students who were frequently tardy for class or absent altogether. The program also took academic performance into account.

When the Starfish software flagged an Estrella student, a message was sent to a college counselor, who contacted the student.

Ninety-eight percent of faculty concerns about struggling students logged in the Estrella database resulted in student consultations with tutors and counselors, according to Starfish.

“The fact that Starfish automatically delivers that feedback to the service providers on campus makes timely intervention possible,” said Joyce Jackson, dean of academic affairs. “Faculty confidence in the system is increasing as service providers close the loop to inform faculty that their student referrals are being addressed.”

The University of Kansas launched its retention program after a 2010 report showed that almost three in 10 students who came to the school in 2007 had left three years later.

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at