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Design an early alert system faculty will actually use

June 19, 2017

As pressure on student success accelerates under the Guided Pathways movement, continued faculty engagement to identify at-risk students is critical. Early alert systems have a proven positive impact on graduation rates, thus community colleges have increasingly invested in new systems. Despite all of the time and money community colleges spend on early alert systems, only 37% of full-time faculty and 28% of part-time faculty report flagging students.

Predictable barriers often prevent community college faculty from using early alert systems. Faculty often assume that early alert systems only flag students with low grades, leaving behavioral issues unreported. And even when faculty know that the system can track behavioral issues, they are often unsure which behaviors indicate risk. Time limitations and student privacy concerns also inhibit early alert system adoption.

Early alert systems should be easily accessible by all faculty, and their impacts should be promoted. Whether designing a new early alert system or evaluating your current one, here are three guidelines to help your institution improve its use.

25 strategies to ease Guided Pathways implementation

Recommendations to improve early alert adoption

1. Evaluate your early alert system for usability

The success of popular tech products—ranging from the iPhone to Amazon and even Salesforce—comes from their intuitive interfaces. Your early alert system should be no different. Fortunately, you do not need an advanced user experience designer to think about your system from a faculty member’s perspective.

Our toolkit’s Faculty-Friendly Early Alert Checklist outlines common stumbling blocks and how to make the system easier to use. While faculty should have agency over how they flag students, a single entry point for all types of risks encourages use. After a student is flagged, the system should keep faculty informed of the result of their alert. Faculty who know that they helped a student stay in school are likely to continue to use the system.

2. Develop soft deadlines

Most administrators expect faculty to submit early alert flags as soon as a behavior arises, but they provide faculty with little guidance and direction. As a result, faculty often submit alerts far into the semester, when intervention is too late.

An Early Reporting Calendar, like this one used by Santa Fe College, helps administrators coordinate communications around early alerts and helps faculty understand the urgency of alerts. Faculty teaching high-risk courses—such as developmental education—have an accelerated calendar that emphasizes intervention as soon as a student shows signs of struggling.

3. Provide regular reminders

Community college faculty often underuse early alert systems because they must balance additional responsibilities. Regular reminders to submit early alerts with clear instruction boosts the number of alerts received.

A few key elements make this reminder stand out in faculty’s inboxes: soft deadlines in bold, specific instructions on how to submit alerts, examples of behavioral risk indicators, and a guarantee of privacy. This sample e-mail, which can be customized for your college, works well when sent near the dates in the Early Reporting Calendar above.

Want to learn more about partnering with faculty in student success?

Our implementation toolkit examines critical areas for colleges in implementing student success initiatives. These 11 tools focus on goal setting, evaluating course data, early alert system adoption, and launching new initiatives. Download the toolkit.

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