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What is a Student Success Management System?

July 19, 2017

Over the last year, we’ve talked a lot about how the student success challenge is evolving. It is no longer sufficient to maximize the number of students who make it from the first year to the second year. In today’s environment, schools must help students graduate in less time, at lower cost, and with the best possible post-graduate outcomes. Put simply, the new standard for all of us in higher education is to ensure students receive the greatest possible “return on education.”

Evidence of change everywhere

Look around the table at your next student success cabinet meeting, and you will see physical evidence of this evolution. A decade ago, the meeting may not have existed. Today, you might see an enrollment manager, a financial aid director, the head of the career center, or a CIO at the table. Student success has become a campus-wide challenge.

And it’s not just the participants that have changed. As the number of challenges have expanded, so too have the technologies that schools have deployed in response. From student engagement to advising to career planning, point solutions have emerged and supported schools in their efforts. According to Tyton Partners, 44% of advising offices have adopted a student success technology in the last three years. How much higher would this percentage be if you considered the student success solutions adopted by administrators, faculty, and other support offices—and, yes, the students themselves?

EAB has evolved as well

It is no surprise, then, that EAB’s student success solution has undergone a parallel evolution. As a member-directed organization, you have pushed us—and our technology—to grow with you.

In 2009 I profiled the rise of early warning systems. What this research revealed, among other things, was that colleges needed better and earlier visibility into broad trends of student success and failure. So what we now call Navigate was born in 2012 as a predictive model and analytics platform. Soon after that, you told us that you needed a way to take action on these insights, so in 2014 we added in workflow and case management capabilities when we acquired GradesFirst.


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More recently, we introduced student planning tools, as you helped us understand the need for scale and a desire for students to participate more actively in their own success by having direct access to (or nudges from) technology during seemingly simple but pivotal, time-sensitive moments. Our product has evolved because you’ve pushed it to evolve, and our research has validated those directions.

Take a step back from this growth and you will see that we have quietly outgrown the old definitions used to classify student success solutions. We’ve folded in new capability sets, blurring and expanding the perimeter of old categories like predictive analytics, CRM, and early warning systems.

This shift from fragmentation to consolidation is not just happening at EAB—it’s happening across higher education. Look to other industries and you will learn that this kind of change is symptomatic of a maturing market. But, most importantly, this growth means that colleges and universities have no consistent and complete way to understand and assess our solutions. As a collective, we need a better way to signal to the market exactly what our maturing product sets can do to help schools achieve their student success goals.

The whole is better than the sum of its parts

To be clear, this maturation is thanks to the efforts of many. Colleges and universities, technology pioneers, vendors, industry organizations, college leaders, and students have all driven this innovation and growth. There is incredible value in each discrete idea, practice, and technology that brought us here.

SSMS in brief

A student success management system is a comprehensive technology that links administrators, faculty, staff, and advisors in a coordinated care network to support students from enrollment to graduation and beyond.

But, after careful reflection on changes in the practice of student success and its companion technological landscape, and in consultation with members and industry experts, we are introducing a new, enterprise-level product category: the Student Success Management System (or SSMS). Yes, this is a new label (and a new acronym). But more than that, the SSMS is a reflection of organic change and a vision designed to drive transformation. And, like other categories you know, such as LMS, CRM, or SIS, Student Success Management Systems will house diverse capability sets, pulled together as an integrated whole.

So, what defines a Student Success Management System? It will surely evolve, but at this (nascent) point, we see three defining principles:

  1. An SSMS is an enterprise-level solution that links thousands of users across a campus. The system must be able to connect administrators, advisors, support offices, faculty, and students—and allow for collaboration between these users around specific student success challenges. We know from our work implementing EAB Campus that there is a strong desire to get as many users as possible working off of the same system. This cross-silo collaboration reflects the expanding nature of the student success challenge that is now touching every corner of campus.
  2. An SSMS consolidates point solutions to create emergent value. Each point solution was originally intended to solve a single problem; however, over time users discovered that combinations of point solutions work better when put together. For example, an early warning system works better when combined with an analytics product that can suggest which courses to target, and works even better when also combined with a CRM that coordinates communication and intervention. Users know this, which is why they have been trying to cobble together these solutions for years, usually by adding more monitors to their desk. Consolidation especially benefits the CIO, who will have fewer vendors to work with, a lower total cost of ownership, and a better experience for staff and students alike. (Plus, fewer monitors!)
  3. The SSMS supports the emerging discipline of student success management. As I’ve outlined in a previous post, progressive colleges and universities are increasingly adopting a new set of KPIs and practices—full and fast cycle metrics— that expand their focus beyond first-year retention. These KPIs include broader definitions of persistence, credit productivity, and post-graduate outcomes, and thus more accurately reflect the full objectives of a school seeking to improve return on education. These metrics may seem straightforward, but they are actually incredibly complex and require sophisticated practice and technology-enabled support and tracking. The Student Success Management System must be oriented around helping schools adopt these progressive practices.

We anticipate that SSMS will evolve over time. At EAB, that evolution will be based in research, grounded in and shaped by our growing list of more than 220 proven best practices. The user base will continue to grow as new roles become engaged in the discipline. New point solutions will emerge, some that will get folded into the larger system based on their integrative properties and their potential to deliver exponential value in combination with other capabilities. New ideas and practices will refine and define Student Success Management.

With the SSMS we hope to create opportunity for national dialogue around a common set of design principles that will push innovation and outcomes. Student Success Management and the SSMS will be an ongoing topic of discussion for us and we hope that colleges and universities, vendors, and organizations will join us in the conversation as we all work together to support students and schools.

Learn more about Student Success Management Systems.
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