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Expert Advocates Using Technology to Engage Students

While earning a college degree is always challenging, it can be more difficult for some students than for others. Data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that only 20 to 40 percent of students who enroll in a degree program achieve their degrees within a year or two of the program’s intended length.

Brian CoBrian Co

Fortunately, a support hierarchy method of student engagement allows institutions to reach each student through channels and methods designed to have the greatest impact.

With the right methodologies, technology and analytics, it is possible to mass-personalize support in a cost-effective manner.

Matching support to need

Using a support hierarchy approach makes it possible to give every student the specific support and resources he or she needs to succeed while making the most effective use of valuable support staff time.

The idea is simple: Focus support re-sources where they can do the most good by allocating combinations of high-touch, higher-cost interventions and lower-cost, low-touch interventions.

The process is premised on continuously categorizing students into one of four groups based on both their current need for intensive support and likelihood of engaging with it:

  • Low Risk/Low Impactability: low need and a low probability of engagement
  • Low Risk/High Impactability: low need and a high probability of engagement
  • High Risk/Low Impactability: high need and a low probability of engagement
  • High Risk/High Impactability: high need and a high probability of engagement

Personalizing student support

The next step is to define the appropriate mix of six basic types of interventions, ranging from least to most resource-intensive, for each category of student:

  1. Automated Nudges

Nudges are messages sent through email, text/SMS, and/or mobile apps (depending on individual student preferences) to large groups of students at predefined intervals to remind them about deadlines, opportunities, productive habits, and resources.

  1. Self-Service Support Content

Self-directed resources — like short instructional or informational videos, interactive checklists, document templates, or essential forms — provide students with guidance on key topics and help them develop needed skills. Building this content into web and mobile apps makes it easy for students to access information anytime, anywhere.

  1. Transactional Coaching

This type of support is directive, focusing on addressing simple issues. Advisers, coaches or other student support professionals often simply layer a slightly personalized message on top of a piece of content, such as a FAFSA checklist, and give students the option of reaching out for additional information and guidance via text, mobile app or email.

  1. Alerts and Early Warnings

At this intervention level, the system monitors key student information, and algorithms flag potential problems with students’ attendance, engagement, academic performance, and other indicators to identify those needing help. It also tracks their communication preferences (which methods, times and content tends to engage them), enabling support professionals to provide assistance in a timely fashion via the mode each student prefers.

For example, the system might flag students who haven’t completed required financial aid paperwork and direct support professionals to engage them via the appropriate channels with reminders, self-guided content and an offer of further assistance.

  1. Episodic Coaching/Support Services

Students who were not previously struggling in school may find themselves suddenly in need of additional support if an illness, a death in the family, or some other personal crisis interferes with their ability to focus on school and meet their goals.

Episodic coaching is designed to meet this need by providing more intensive, one-to-one support focused on overcoming a temporary obstacle.

In many cases, issues outside of the student’s academic life that trigger the need for episodic coaching won’t be flagged by an early alert system. So regular out-reach and offers of support are essential to building trust and determining whether a student chooses to reach out for help in a moment of need.

For example, a student who loses his job may immediately think of dropping out due to a perceived inability to continue paying tuition and other expenses.

However, if he is willing to engage support, he may find grants, loans and other sources of financing. A simple text message saying, “I hope all is well — just a reminder that I am here if you ever need anything,” could spur him to seek assistance.

  1. Developmental Coaching

The final level of support involves proactive, one-to-one coaching at regular intervals over a period of time to help students identify and address obstacles to their success. The objective of developmental support is for students to build the knowledge, skills, abilities, and beliefs they need to succeed — not just in school, but also in life.

Brian Co is vice president of product and platform development at InsideTrack.

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