Photo Elizabeth Polzin, assistant vice president of Academics for Student Success at Concordia University Wisconsin

Concordia University Wisconsin: How to Achieve a Record Retention Rate


Article originally published on E-Learn Magazine on Feb 13, 2018 – Click here for the Spanish version

Identifying at-risk students and helping them out. That’s what the use of Blackboard intelligence and learning analytics solutions has brought Concordia University Wisconsin.

Before the use of this technology, if students were struggling with learning, the university had to rely on faculty reports. And several times, when it came to this point, it was already too late for students to get back on track and save their semesters. “Now, we are able to make an early intervention,” says Elizabeth Polzin, assistant vice president of Academics for Student Success at Concordia University Wisconsin (CUW).

The work started about a year ago, first limited to on-campus undergraduate students as a precaution measure to make sure they were getting reliable data. The results so far have been nothing short of outstanding.

Last fall, CUW had a retention rate of 72%. A year later, the university experienced a 10% increase, reaching a record 82% retention rate. Along with the involvement of administration and faculty, analytics also was a big part of this result, Polzin believes. “The data we collected this past year helped us better understand the challenges our students were encountering and aided us in much earlier intervention,” she says.

In Search of a More Personalized Experience

At CUW, students are not just ‘a number.’ “We are proud to say we know students’ names at CUW. The ability to use analytics to better serve our students provides them with a personalized experience. Rather than waiting until the end of the semester to determine what went wrong, we have to be able to take note when they stop attending class or begin to fall behind in their coursework,” Polzin points out.

The most important endeavor is to find out how students are developing in their academic commitments while there are still opportunities for recovery if they are doing poorly, not just at the end of the semester when it is too late. That is what academic support is there for.

“With the Blackboard learning analytics tools, this year has been a bit of an explosion for us. We just started to dabble with what types of reports we could create, and better strategize our outreach. I think it’s one of the reasons we saw a big jump on our retention rate – we had the opportunity to provide personalized outreach before the semester was over,” says Polzin.

Offering Better Quality Outreach

Based on the data provided, CUW is working with dashboards that can be viewed by each of their advisors, with focus on student performance and a variety of risk factors. For example, “Advisors can now easily view whether a student has had a significant drop in their GPA from the prior term, if they are registered for 18 or more hours but have a low GPA, or if they have had a significant drop in term GPA from their cumulative GPA,” among other data.

The dashboards help the university envision how to support students more efficiently – even the ones who need outreach at the beginning of the semester – before they even start struggling with their education. “With a review of identified risk factors at the beginning of the term, our intervention can start much earlier than it has in the past,” Polzin says.

CUW also has an intervention team to help students, such as getting to know what types of problems they are experiencing and trying to formulate solutions – from financial to mental health. “If a student disappears for a while, it’s possible, through the attendance feature, to determine if they haven’t been to class. With that type of real time information, a university staff member can follow up with the student to determine what support they may need. Instead of using automated emails, we’re able to provide individualized outreach from someone the student knows,” shares Polzin.

Building a Better Relationship Between Faculty and Students

The use of data analysis has improved relationships between faculty and students due to a new referral system for professors. In the past, when a student started to struggle, faculty may have felt as though they had to deal with the situation on their own. However, that’s not something all professors feel comfortable with. Now, there is a system in place where faculty can refer students they are concerned about and an academic support team is able to use analytics to address students’ needs.

A Way to Provide Revenue for Universities

More than offering students and faculty the best possible experience, learning analytics has also been impacting CUW’s revenue through academic support. “It’s a better use of time and human resources in general. As a supervisor, I prefer to not have my team spinning their wheels in a direction where they end up in a dead end. Using analytics gives us focus and direction as to the best way to serve our students,” affirms Polzin. “The bottom line is: through the use of analytics, we know that our decisions are informed, and the results we’ve seen are a positive consequence of that,” she concludes.


Graphic The impact of learning analytics at CUW


Photos by: AFP – Darren Hauck