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What health care can teach us about student success

September 25, 2015

We are thrilled to be welcoming over 300 of our members to Washington, D.C. in late October for SSC’s annual summit, CONNECTED. This is going to be an incredible event, and we are so excited to share it with you. A core theme this year will be an introduction to “population health management” and a deep dive into why we think the principles behind it will serve as a new blueprint for thinking about student success. Today, I want to give you a brief preview of this work.

In addition to higher education, you may know that our parent firm The Advisory Board Company also serves thousands of hospitals and health systems. When our colleagues from the health care side of the business saw what SSC members are doing with risk analytics, they were immediately reminded of a similar transformation underway in the health care sector. Population health management (PHM), as it is known, has emerged in response to the need to maintain (or even improve) outcomes as an aging population puts increased stress on the health care system.

What is population health management?

Health care outcomes are a function of the number of care providers, their capacity for delivering care, and the needs of the population they are serving. As the population ages, demand will outpace the addition of new physicians, stretching our current system beyond its capacity to deliver adequate care. In response, payers (insurance companies and the federal government) are incentivizing providers to develop new practices that allow physicians to extend their expertise in order to cover more patients.

PHM works by segmenting the patient populations by risk and deploying differential type and degree of care to each segment according to its need. Lower-risk patients enjoy less time spent in the doctor’s office, and higher-risk patients are less likely to experience escalations requiring costly hospitalization. Providers that adopt PHM report lower overall costs per patient and fewer unnecessary readmissions. These new efficiencies have allowed many providers to expand their assigned panel of “covered lives” and increase reimbursements from payers. While there is still a lot of work left to do, all indications are that PHM represents a step in the right direction for extending the capacity of the health care industry.

What higher education can learn from PHM

We were first drawn to PHM because the challenges faced by health care so closely resemble those we see faced by our own members. Disappointing student success rates and postgraduate outcomes suggest that our “care” system is already stretched far beyond capacity, a problem that will only worsen as future enrollments increasingly come to us from less prepared and resourced populations. Pushed hard to improve outcomes, most institutions cannot afford to simply add large numbers of new advisors, counselors, and academic support staff. Instead, like health care, we must develop innovative practices anchored in risk analytics to deploy current efforts differentially and more efficiently if we hope to improve outcomes with current resources.

When we looked to the Collaborative, we found that many of our most successful members were already adopting some PHM-like strategies. Your incredible response to Campaigns is a prime example of risk segmentation in action, as is the growing national interest in the Murky Middle. But we also saw four big challenges impeding many schools from making further progress along these lines. At CONNECTED, we’ll explore the practices innovative members are putting in place to break through these barriers and pave the way toward more comprehensive student success strategies based on risk analytics.

To drive conversation in advance, we have prepared a white paper that not only serves as a primer to PHM, but also dives deep on each of the four identified challenges. I encourage you to take a look and welcome your feedback in the comments below. I look forward to continuing this conversation in person here in Washington, D.C. in late October.

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