How One University Achieved a Record Retention Rate Through Analytics


This blog was adapted from an article first published in E-Learn magazine.

A private liberal arts college serving over 8,000 students, Concordia University Wisconsin (CUW) describes itself as a learning community where students develop their potential and prepare to lead uncommon lives of higher professional purpose for the betterment of self and community.

As part of this mission, CUW is committed to providing a personalized academic experience for every learner. At CUW, students are not just “a number,” says Elizabeth Polzin, Assistant Vice President of Academics for Student Success. “We are proud to say we know students’ names at CUW.”

Recently, the university embarked on a journey to use analytics to better serve its students and improve retention institution-wide. In Fall 2016, 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 played a significant role in this shift. “The data we collected this past year helped us better understand the challenges our students were encountering and aided us in much earlier intervention,” Polzin says.

With the student management module for Blackboard Intelligence, CUW developed data dashboards that can be viewed by each of their advisors, with a focus on student performance and a variety of risk factors. 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 understand how to support students more efficiently. “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 dedicated to supporting students. Intervention team members are responsible for understanding the types of problems students are experiencing – from financial to mental health – and formulating solutions. With the real-time data provided by Blackboard’s analytics solutions, university staff members can follow up with individual students to determine what support they may need. Instead of using automated emails, staff are then able to provide individualized outreach from someone the student knows and feels comfortable with.

A new referral system for professors has also improved relationships between faculty and students. 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 handling themselves. Now, there is a system in place where CUW faculty can refer students they are concerned about, and an academic support team is able to further address students’ needs.

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 Polzin.

In addition to offering students and faculty the best possible experience, learning analytics has impacted 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,” Polzin reflects. “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.

To learn more about CUW’s success, check out the video below.

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