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Improve student success with just one minute

January 10, 2019

We’re all busy. Which means that many student success initiatives-especially those that require data alignment, political buy-in, resources, and time-may feel out of reach. But sometimes just one minute is enough time to make a difference in student success.

As advising leaders at Kennesaw State University, we wondered why some of our highest performing students weren’t registering for their classes next term. In attempt to get to the bottom of this, Chris sent this email to 4,000 students who had earned 3.0 but had not registered for the next semester:

It was just 34 words long, and it took only a minute to draft and send. But within a few days, 1,100+ students responded, describing the many registration barriers they faced, some of which the school had unintentionally put in their path. Students appreciated that we cared enough to notice and reach out. Chris shared this story in a short talk at CONNECTED17, which you can watch below.

Share: Just one more class gets you to 15 credits

15 to Finish is a popular initiative for improving student persistence and graduation rates. We know that students who attempt more credit hours complete more hours and that reduces their time to degree. Could a simple nudge help our students in good standing get to 15 credits?

To test that theory, Sarah sent an email to students who had registered for 12-14 credits, encouraging them to enroll in one more class:

A few students told us that they were working full time and couldn’t fit an additional course into their busy schedule. We discovered that most students wanted to register for that additional course, but were running into barriers. Many told us they were waiting to get off a waitlist for a certain course. Others had made prerequisite, major change, or simple registration errors. Once we discovered these administrative hurdles, we could override them and help students get into the classes they needed.

Quite a few students simply didn’t know the benefits of taking 15 credits-but they were excited at the opportunity to choose another course and asked for recommendations. This was a huge win for us: We’re always trying to find ways to connect students to our resources. By changing our perspective on email and thinking of it as a tool to engage, rather than just to inform, we created space for new conversations.

After registration for spring had closed, 187 out of the 1,610 students, or 11%, enrolled in at least one additional 3-credit course.

Ask: “What makes or breaks your semester?”

Registering for the next term, and earning enough credits to graduate, are the nuts-and-bolts of college persistence. But at a higher level, we as educators hope that students reflect on what contributes to, or undermines, their own academic success. To get students to think intentionally about how their habits factor into their course grades, we sent the following email campaigns:

  • To recognize and engage students who had excelled, we congratulated students who had earned a 4.0 the past term and asked: What tips would you share with your fellow students?
  • To hear from students who had turned their grades around, we asked students with a cumulative GPA of 2.5 or lower who had earned a 3.5 or higher in their last term: What did you do differently this time?
  • Finally, we contacted students whose grades had slipped-they had a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher, but earned less than a 2.0 this past term-to see how they were feeling, share relevant support resources, and ask: What do you plan to do differently next term?

The responses were candid and meaningful.

Students who had gotten good grades shared thoughtful advice, like having a set schedule that allocated time for class and studying, but also exercise and free time. Another student attributed their improved grades to an enjoyable theater class their advisor had recommended, which motivated them through the less engaging courses on their schedule.

And for a student who had seen their grades fall, they admitted, “It’s clear that I’ve had a rough semester. Are you my advisor?” We plan to share the tips that successful students submitted to help their peers and use the responses from students who struggled as an opening for advising conversations moving forward.

Remind advisors that they matter to students

Our last example of what you can do with a minute doesn’t have to do with email campaigns. We know that, more than any email we can send, advisors make up the heart of our student success work. As the new terms begins, we lean on our advisors to build bridges with students and guide them through the tough work that lies ahead.

To recognize the difference advisors they make, we started a small, low-cost initiative last year. Whenever a student met with an advisor for an appointment, we sent a post-appointment survey. Students rated the meeting on a scale of one to five to indicate whether their needs were met and they could also leave qualitative comments.

We compiled and typed up the positive comments that students left for individual advisors, tied them with ribbon to jars with chocolates inside, and handed these individualized gifts out to all the advisors on campus. Advisors discovered enthusiastic feedback like, “[My advisor] is absolutely phenomenal. I’ve been going to him all through my journey here at KSU and he goes above and beyond to look at every detail with a fine-toothed comb.”

A year later, we still see the glass jars with the notes displayed in in the advisors’ offices. Of course, the candy is long gone, but the note itself serves as an artifact of the positive impact the advisor made in a student’s life.

As administrators and advisors, we move mountains to help our students persist and succeed. But sometimes we don’t need to accomplish feats of herculean effort- Chris’ first experiment taught us that a relatively simple email can go a long way. The next time you find yourself pressed for time and effort, see what impact you can make on student success with just a minute.

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