NPC_student_successEvery college in America is focused like a laser beam on ensuring students return semester after semester and complete their educational goals successfully. The survival of small colleges like NPC in particular depend on connecting with students and keeping them engaged and moving forward.

That’s why in the Spring 2017 semester, NPC launched a new program designed to improve student retention and completion rates. Employing Hobson’s Starfish Early Alert and Connect software, NPC is now better equipped to connect with students and help them succeed and stay in college.

Faculty member Michelle Hunt conducts the Nursing 122 class at NPC’s Little Colorado Campus in Winslow.

Faculty member Michelle Hunt conducts the Nursing 122 class at NPC’s Little Colorado Campus in Winslow.

Starfish is an early alert system that automatically mines data about student performance and helps alert faculty and staff to those students who are struggling,” says Josh Rogers, NPC director of student services. “It gives faculty the opportunity to intervene and help students succeed before they fail a class or drop out of college.”

Struggling students can receive support through extra help from their instructor, tutoring, academic advising or in dealing with transportation or financial issues. The benefit to NPC students is that the Starfish system speeds up communication between student services and faculty and allows them to deal with student issues much faster and in a more organized way than before.

Students with unsatisfactory grades at midterm received an email alert expressing concern and a request to contact the instructor immediately “to see what can be done to raise your grade in my course. I believe that you can be successful in your academic studies, and I am here to help!” Several students have sent emails to thank faculty for the communication they received and the offer of extra help. Others have met with their instructor and eventually turned things around in the classroom.

Students who were succeeding in their classes also received a personalized email “kudo.” “Congratulations! I appreciate your dedication and hard work in the classroom. Keep up the good work!” Connie Warren, a faculty member who helped pilot the program in her Law and Ethics for the Health Care Professional class, now highly recommends Starfish for all NPC faculty. She used Starfish to address student attendance concerns, to “raise a flag” on students with poor academic performance or other serious issues, as well as to send “kudos” to students who received an outstanding test score.

“What really surprised me, more than anything else,” Warren says, “was that even when I raised a flag on a student – normally a negative action – I always received a positive response from them, such as ‘thank you for noticing’ or ‘I appreciate your concern.’ Students also really liked receiving the kudos and responded favorably when they received a complimentary message. Several students commented to me that getting Starfish notes motivated them to try even harder to do well in the course.”

A few weeks into the semester, 13 students in Warren’s class were at risk of not passing. Through her Starfish alerts and resulting interactions with those students, 12 of them passed the course. “I attribute this amazing turn- around in student performance, in part, to my use of Starfish to promote and foster good instructor–student relations and provide resources to students who may not have otherwise received assistance or been aware of all their options,” Warren says.

“I’m very excited that we have this new system in place and look forward to exploring all the many different ways Starfish can be used in the future to assist our students in achieving their educational goals,” Warren says. “Starfish makes it easy to quickly communicate concerns about a student to a wide range of NPC faculty, advisers and administrators who have contact with the student. This streamlines the follow-up action needed to assist the student, in that one can readily determine in Starfish what action has already been taken and by whom.”

Amber Gentry, Nursing Department chair, who also helped pilot the program, agrees that Starfish is a great asset to students and faculty. “For some students, a note from a teacher indicating concern is enough to motivate them to do better. And for others who are in a dire situation academically, the system allows continued communication regarding their progress in the course.”

Rogers says that with the implementation of Starfish, “We’re definitely reaching out to at-risk students faster, which helps keep them enrolled and moving toward their educational goals.” NPC’s objective is to see continued improvement in student retention rates and course completion rates year after year by utilizing technology that helps both NPC faculty and staff work faster and more effectively.

– Dennis Durband