UNC Pilots Online Advising System to Foster Student Success

An English class identified as a critical course for success can help inform biology majors at the University of Northern Colorado if they're on the right track.

That's an example of the idea behind a powerful new advising tool being launched at UNC to reach students before it's too late and support degree completion. The system uses analytics and predictive modeling in identifying courses that are markers for success in a chosen major.

"This helps us identify the not-so-obvious struggling student," said Stephanie Torrez, assistant dean for Academic Support, in describing a student who may be making a combination of mid-range Cs, Bs, and even As on their grade report. "Those students might be at high risk of not completing if they're not hitting marks of what we say are indicators of who's more likely to succeed."

The technology being piloted from the Education Advisory Board allows faculty and staff advisers to compare a student's past performance with the program-specific performance of thousands of UNC students. The system, called the Student Success Collaborative (SSC), alerts advisers to courses in which the student may need additional support — even before the student enrolls. Students can see which classes predict success in their major and can make early adjustments, if necessary.

Using the data, advisers can reach out to students who are not on track to complete these courses on time or when a student's performance in a critical course, which varies by major, suggests the need for additional support.The platform also identifies majors that may be a good fit for students based on their successes in previous coursework.

"We want to provide each biology major with the necessary tools, resources and advising to support his or her success — SSC will enable us to identify struggling students early and to intervene," said Associate Professor Susan Keenan, director of the School of Biological Sciences. In addition to Biological Sciences, the online data-driven advising support system is being piloted in pre-Nursing, Elementary Education, Special Education, and the Office of Academic Support and Advising.

UNC is among more than 90 colleges and universities nationwide using SSC, an initiative within UNC's enrollment plan to support student success amid a growing need for more college graduates in a knowledge-based economy. Rob Reinsvold, associate professor of biology, noted that SSC can "enhance interaction with students, which hopefully will make them feel more valued."

"We want our majors to feel connected to biology and the university," he said.