One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish…. Starfish?


One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish….  Starfish?

From the desk of Bill Bradfield

Fifteen years ago I was investigating the quality of student customer service at a major Midwestern university and was advised that they had just purchased $100,000 in helpdesk software and needed no more help. As I investigated, I discovered that while the school had bought the software, they had never implemented it!! The containers, with the software, were still sitting unopened on a bookshelf!! The Help Desk Director pointed to the shelf and said the school had “checked the box” and was satisfied they had addressed the student customer service issue.

While that example is extreme, it does point to a tendency to “rely” on a software solution when a personal touch can drive much more rewarding results. The parallel to that help desk example can be found in the sole reliance on software solutions like Starfish to resolve the current crisis in student retention. I don’t want to downplay the importance of early warning systems like Starfish. Like help desk software, they are an important tool in the solution to student success and retention. However, they are only tools and require supplementation by effective people and processes to be truly effective. More importantly, at risk student behavior does not get flagged until it has already occurred, which is often too late to truly change the factors behind the student behavior.

So what do we know about the success of retention software? Here are some startling facts:
• 93% of all post-secondary institutions have employed early alert retention systems.
• Only 40% of institutions found that the systems actually improved retention rates.
• First year student retention has only increased 2% from 2012 to 2015 (National Center for Education Statistics – 2016).

To address this, many schools have created student support and counseling centers who provide counseling services as students get “alerts” from the retention software. While the jury is still out on the efficacy of this approach, its reliance reacting to alerts to drive counseling services makes its long term success questionable. Maybe another form of “checking the box?”

Our experience with proactive strategic coaching solutions, supplemented by an early alert system provides a much rosier picture of how to impact student retention. In fact, results from schools who have implemented proactive strategic coaching are demonstrably more compelling than those where an early alert system with reactive counseling has been utilized.
• A reduction of 17.5% per term in the number of “alerts” per student
• An average increase in term over term retention of nearly 15%
• Rates of Return on Investment averaging between 350% and 500%
• Recovery of millions of dollars in tuition that had previously “walked out the door.”

I would love to hear from you about your ideas and experiences with the “people, processes and tools” of the retention trade.