Student success center increases freshman retention rate 5.2 percent
- Tracking freshman performance is vital for student success
- Early alerts enhance the work of academic advisors
- Technology can help improve efficiencies and increase success
Stay Okra Strong. Dr. Christy Riddle, executive director of the Student Success Center at Delta State University (DSU), says that this motto is the center of the retention-related technology advances on her campus. The Fighting Okra is DSU’s unofficial mascot, chosen because okra is a hard, prickly vegetable that has strong roots and stems. Shortened, the saying becomes SOS, an early alert when students struggle and might need a little extra help. “Anyone can alert someone. So, for example, if a student has missed three classes, a faculty member can submit an alert. Our SOS coordinator receives the alert, and then, depending on what the SOS is, determines how to follow up,” Riddle says.
The system started as a barebones Microsoft Excel–powered method to track student performance in an effort to improve retention and completion rates. “Our success rate with SOS right now is about 65 to 70 percent,” Riddle says. It is a time-consuming process, however, because it is entirely manual.
SOS is one initiative that’s helping increase the retention of DSU students. Since the launch of the Student Success Center in Fall 2012, Riddle’s team has seen solid indicators that campuswide efforts are paying off. “This fall, our fall-to-fall retention rate is up 5.2 percent from the previous fall for first-time, full-time freshmen, and 7.8 percent for first-time, full-time transfer students.”
That is good news for DSU as the university pilots Ellucian CRM Advise, a new success and retention application—an application that will improve on the university’s overall retention efforts. The new technology will not only allow better SOS tracking but expand capabilities. “In addition to automating the early alert program, the new system will enhance the efforts of academic advisors by providing readily available online data regarding their advisees, expand the tracking and monitoring capabilities of the Student Success team, and streamline campuswide retention efforts,” says Riddle.
Riddle says the process has underscored the importance of patience. “It takes time because this program is customized for DSU. It’s not off the shelf, with stock templates. Everything is customized.” To have that level of customization, she says it is essential to have a good partner that takes the time to understand your needs. She also suggests finding on campus champions who can help guide the process. “We piloted the system in fall 2016, with the faculty academic advisors in the College of Education and Human Sciences, with two faculty members taking the lead on implementing the technology. This group of faculty has been instrumental in shaping the product for the rest of the campus as we go campuswide in spring 2017.”
Technology is vital,” Riddle says. “We get anywhere from 150 to 250 SOS alerts a semester, and benchmarking it is a constant challenge. We don’t currently have an automated process, so we are looking forward to fully implementing Ellucian’s product. The manual process has been gruesome, but I think it’s been really beneficial to start off that way because now we’re creating the capabilities we know we need.”
CHRISTY RIDDLE, Executive Director, Student Success Center, Delta State University
Dr. Christy Riddle has 19 years of experience in higher education and provides leadership to Delta State University’s Student Success Center,in Cleveland, Miss. The Center includes five divisions: academic advising, academic support, first year seminar, international student services,and Okra Scholars, a First in the World project supported by a major grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education. She earned a Ph.D. in Human Capital Development from the University of Southern Mississippi.