In the 2015 book, Redesigning America's Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success, authors Bailey, Jaggars and Jenkins introduced the idea of a guided pathways model for getting students to the finish line on time. It’s something we took to heart here at Arkansas State University-Beebe as we were facing the same challenges with retention and completion rates as other community colleges throughout the country.
We could get students in the door and monitor their performance to an extent, but there were many indicators that flew under the radar of satisfactory academic progress reports that we couldn’t capture at the time. How were students doing after their first year? Who were the students dropping below 12 hours a semester and jeopardizing their financial aid status? If they did make it to the finish line, how long was it taking on average?
“With the cloud, we could build a true data warehouse, one that pulled in data from the SIS, CRM, LMS and other systems"
We’re a two-year institution. A big part of our mission is getting students prepared for transfer to competitive programs at Arkansas’ four-year institutions. If students take five or six semesters to complete an associate degree, they can miss an application window by 12 to 18 months for competitive programs, such as our nursing or physical therapy programs at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro or University of Arkansas. We needed to know if they were getting in and out on time.
Back in 2015, our ITS department partnered with the Institutional Research and Academics team to create a student-centered infrastructure that could support the guided pathways model–one that would enable us to capture and manage a lot of data from different systems. At the time, though, our on-site platform and staff weren’t set up for this. To build a culture around the stewardship of data, we needed to unplug the black box platform we had at the time and move to the cloud.
With the cloud, we could build a true data warehouse, one that pulled in data from the SIS, CRM, LMS and other systems. We could apply some of the newer tools to that data, like predictive analytics, to better identify and help students at risk. With better workflows and forms builder, we could create and automate a trigger that set in motion the kind of support students need sooner, like connecting them to our advising and learning's centers before they disappear between the first and second year.
IT Services Focusing More on Student Initiatives
Just as important, the cloud would enable us to allocate more IT resources toward recruitment, retention, integrity of student documents, financial aid services and other frontline business processes and workflows that directly impact students.
From enrollment to alumni relations, the ITS team is now more closely aligned with business unit objectives than ever before. That’s been the real shift for us in terms of what the cloud has allowed us to do. Our ITS folks, some of whom have been working here for 20+ years, no longer have to worry as much about the day-to-day operations of maintaining hardware, backing up to tape and doing firmware updates. They are as attuned to the guided pathways model as the rest of the institution.
When we first moved to the cloud back in 2015, we even set up a war room for our Vice Chancellor of Enrollment to optimize the solution around business processes and goals. As a result, our enrollment professionals can now admit students faster and more efficiently. Our applicant-to-admissions rate, which used to be one of those blind spots for us, has increased significantly since that time. This is especially noteworthy when you consider that we don’t actually have a separate recruitment department (our admissions department wears many hats, including recruiting).
We’re even looking at some day deploying Occupation Insights tools to better align students and programs with the needs of the workforce. Workforce analytics is yet another big data stream that we will be able to tap into through the cloud. Combined with data from the student information system, we’ll be able to recommend specific courses and electives to students as they are registering to make them more competitive in the job market after they graduate.
ASU-Beebe has been live on the cloud now for just 14 months, so we’re just now getting into the level of optimization that would provide greater insight across the student lifecycle with important KPIs like transfer and completion rates, job placement rates, cost per student for completion, churn levels for both students and HR and percentage of students persisting from year one to year two.
What’s most important is that we now have the framework for improving students’ chances of getting that associate’s degree within two years. With the guided pathways model as our guide and the cloud as our enabling technology, we feel like we’re on this journey with them.