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How Technology Fuels Student Success

Episode 174

November 28, 2023 14 minutes


EAB’s Julianne Turpin and Brendan Mannix explore the many changes that have made modern student success software a central component of student retention efforts. The two discuss newer features (including CRM capabilities, AI enhancements, and more) that differentiate a truly effective system from those that fail to wrap students at risk in an effective, coordinated care network. They also share a glimpse into emerging tech features that prepare students for a successful launch after graduation.


0:00:11.9 Speaker 1: Hello and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. Today we take a look back at the evolution of student success management systems that have become central to student retention efforts across higher education. We’ll also explore innovations that are driving the next generation of these platforms, innovations like integrated CRM capabilities, artificial intelligence, and tools that support postgraduate student success. So give these folks a listen and enjoy.

0:00:47.2 Julianne Turpin: Hello and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. My name is Julie Weiss and I am a Director of Strategic research here at EAB. Today we’re going to talk about the role of technology in helping universities and colleges engage and support students at every step of their Higher Ed journey and beyond. We’re going to trace the history of student support systems generally, and we’re gonna talk about how one of the first of these systems, EAB’s Navigate platform now called Navigate360, has evolved to meet the changing needs of students and institutions. I’m pleased to share that joining me today to explore the topic is my colleague, Brendan Mannix, VP of engineering. Brendan, welcome to the program.

0:01:34.3 Brendan Mannix: Thanks, Julie. It’s great to be here.

0:01:37.2 JT: Awesome. Well, before we go too deep into the top interests, would you mind telling us a bit about your role at EAB?

0:01:45.4 BM: Sure. I lead a few technical teams at EAB, but I’m primarily responsible for the team’s developing our student success staff platforms, including Navigate360. I’ve been leading that team for over six years now, and I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done. More recently we’ve been working in some of the new AI technologies that have come out and I’m super excited about that work too.

0:02:07.4 JT: That’s awesome. I’m excited to hear more about that in a bit. Before we get there, can you give us just a brief history lesson, if you will, on the evolution of student support technologies and maybe explain for our listeners why simply just encouraging students to make an appointment if they’re struggling… So I imagine with a professor or an academic advisor, why that’s never been enough. And then also why in today’s world such a laissez-faire approach could be doing more harm than good.

0:02:34.7 BM: Traditionally, institutions have known for years that they need to be more proactive in their outreach to students. Low graduation rates at institutions have been far too low, and student success management systems have been developed to help students stay in school and graduate. The purpose of the Student Success Management system historically has been to help the institutions identify students that are at higher risk to help them intervene with those students specifically and coordinate an appropriate mix of services to support each student individually. We’ve seen that learning challenges at the K through 12 level, combined with pandemic disruptions, mean that students arriving in our campuses today are in aggregate, just frankly, less prepared academically, socially, and even emotionally than those of the years past. The students arriving today on campus tend to be more diverse and may have different needs than those students in the past as well. Declining enrollments give colleges added incentives to provide students already on their campus from dropping out or falling short of earning their degree. EAB’s Navigate Platform was one of the first such technologies widely adopted by colleges and universities to help boost retention and graduation rates.

0:03:48.6 JT: Thank you for that. And is it fair to say that most colleges today are using at least some form of student success tech on campus to help them focus those support resources? And if so, what is the difference between a bare bones system versus one that is a lot more comprehensive?

0:04:11.0 BM: Well from my perspective, student success management systems are really table stakes today. Colleges are looking for more and more sophisticated features that are tailored to them and tailored to their problem spaces, but they’re also looking for simplicity. Increasingly, we’re seeing that colleges want just one system that can serve as a CRM to help them recruit students to get into school, and then use that same system to help trace the evolution of a student’s journey through their institution and make it easier for them to identify and provide support to those who are falling off the path to graduation. EABs flagship student success management system is called Navigate360, and the platform has undergone significant development since we introduced it more than a decade ago, and particularly over the past couple of years. Especially strengthening its CRM capabilities, leveraging AI to automate and expedite routine tasks and provide new features that help students launch their careers after they graduate.

0:05:10.5 JT: Okay, fascinating. So help us understand a bit more here. Why are these features so important to Higher Ed leaders today? And I’d love to start with the CRM component. Why does that matter to institutions?

0:05:21.1 BM: Well, institutions really want just a single platform that enables them to both recruit and then retain their students. They want a full picture of the student’s lifecycle. CRM systems are used by all kinds of businesses to create and execute coordinated communication with prospects and clients today. But that’s also a fundamental part of supporting students. So delivering that functionality within the same platform that you use to help students persist really makes a lot of sense for the school. The information applicants share with our Navigate360 partner schools during the recruitment process automatically populates into their Navigate360 student profile once they’ve matriculated the school as well. The net result is that advisors have a much more complete picture of a student with fewer students falling through those cracks.

0:06:08.3 JT: Definitely. That makes sense. And you mentioned AI both recently and then in the beginning too. And so curious, what role can artificial intelligence play today in helping colleges improve retention and graduation rates?

0:06:25.3 BM: Sure. Well honestly we are just figuring that out. There’s been a lot of breakthroughs recently and so it’s really exciting stuff. We’re having to kind of roll our sleeves up here and understand how to best use this technology. But EAB’s been researching and developing AI powered features that will enable advisors to spend less time on administrative tasks, such as composing routine emails to the hundreds of students assigned to them, or composing content to launch a campaign. These features are about increasing the scale that an advisor has and boosting their productivity so they can spend their time where really it’s most precious, which is one-on-one with students. The new communications content creator within Navigate uses generative AI to help advisors draft communications that encourage students to take necessary actions such as enrolling for class next term or changing their major or maybe scheduling a planning session to ensure that they graduate on time.

0:07:18.2 BM: The new communications content creator also enables advisors to provide only a few sparse details, and our AI will create an engaging and motivating message for students. Advisors can also use AI to see recommendations for how they might adjust the tone, to add urgency, translate into another language, or maybe use more inclusive terminology without changing the essential meaning of the message. Another exciting feature of our AI powered… Is our AI powered knowledge bot, which gives students an easier way to get instant answers to common questions like how do I get a parking pass? How do I report academic misconduct? Or maybe how do I change my major? And they can do all this right from their smartphone. Students can also use the knowledge bot to get connected to their personal support team. And we’ve found that answering common questions to AI can ease the burden on university staff and in turn boost their productivity.

0:08:17.6 BM: Unlike traditional chatbots that are deployed widely today that must be trained to recognize and respond to specific questions, navigates knowledge bot leverages large language models to interpret the semantic meaning of a question, which helps us deliver a more accurate answer and links to relevant resources for that student. Other AI enhancements in Navigate make it easier for staff and administrators to generate reports on institutional student and retention success efforts. While Navigate has always included a set of templated reports that are commonly used by university success leaders, the new AI capability will allow users to employ natural language to describe the type of data they’re interested in, and the AI will assist the user with creating a custom report for exactly what they’re looking for.

0:09:06.9 JT: Ooh, sounds like y’all in engineering have been busy then. So what’s next for Navigate360?

0:09:14.0 BM: Just recently, we’ve introduced a suite of features and applications that help students prepare for life after they graduate. Some of our partner institutions are already using the new features to support students postgraduate success, through a partnership with Seramount, an EAB subsidiary, we’re helping colleges connect students with employers who are looking to recruit early career talent. We’re also working to extend Navigate CRM capabilities to support advancement activities like alumni engagement and fundraising.

0:09:41.4 JT: Wow, that’s great. So I know we don’t have a ton of time today, but before you go, would you mind sharing your top pieces of advice for schools who know they should be using a technology in more sophisticated ways to boost retention and graduation, but maybe they’re not sure what their next steps should be or what the right path is from here?

0:10:07.2 BM: Students coming to school now are facing challenges like we’ve never seen before. We’re seeing pandemic related learning loss, overall mental health and financial pressures for arriving students. The best piece of advice that I can give is to look for technologies that can help you scale your resources and make each individual that uses the technology more effective in their role. The ability to scale your resources will ultimately make schools more successful. The earlier schools can identify a student that’s trending in a bad direction, the easier it is to help get them back on track. So it’s critical to pick a tool that can help you detect when a student is just stepping off the track. To be successful doing this at scale, you need a mature solution that has domain expertise to help power your internal efforts. Some of the trends we’ve seen most recently is we’ve seen tool consolidation.

0:10:56.3 BM: Vendors or schools only want to use one tool to help them achieve these goals. And they want a tool that will make your staff happier by making their job easier, which will boost internal retention rates. We’ve also seen CRM capabilities like marketing outreach become more and more critical, and that helps provide a complete view of the entire student. And of course, AI-based features that once again help us scale our precious resources. And so finding a tool that encapsulates all of those things, I think is the advice that I would give a student success leader trying to boost retention and graduation rates on campus.

0:11:33.7 JT: That makes so much sense Brendan. And I think we can all agree that colleges are student-centric at the end of the day. They try and they pour their hearts and souls into how to do their best by students, but they have a financial imperative, as you mentioned, to make sure that they’re not only able to get students in the door, they have to keep them engaged, wrap them in a coordinated care network to ensure they persist to graduation, and then provide them with the wraparound resources to ensure the students and the institutions themselves have ROI and the students can land that first job after graduation. Now Brendan, I think this could be as good a place as ever to wrap up, is there anything else you’d wanna add before we go?

0:12:15.1 BM: Thanks, Julie. I mean we’ve talked a lot about the capabilities of the Navigate360 platform today. And I think the only thing I’d want to add is that schools need a system to help organize their student success efforts for the thousands of students that they’re responsible for. This is not something that you can do anymore with a pad and paper or an Excel spreadsheet. You have to have a high-tech piece of technology that helps you conduct these types of outreaches, identify students that need help and get them the support that they need as quickly as possible. And the result is a student that previously would have flunked out of college will graduate. That’s a real-world impact. And it’s a real-world impact for that student, and it’s a real-world impact for the school. And so I think if there’s folks that are listening that are interested in learning anymore you can head over to our website and check out more about Navigate360.

0:13:17.1 JT: Thanks for sharing that Brendan, and thank you so much again for joining us today.

0:13:25.1 BM: Yep. Thanks for having me, Julie.


0:13:34.3 S1: Thank you for listening. Please join us next week when the president of Carthage College shares some pretty eye popping before and after stats showing how his institution has worked within the framework of EAB’s Moonshot for Equity Project to turbocharge student retention across all student demographics. Until next week, thank you for your time.


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