College Completion Summit 2019 – Panel 4

College Completion Summit Audio Recap
University Marketing & Communications

Data and technology contributions to completion

UMC: This is an audio recap of the College Completion Summit hosted by the University of Utah and the Lumina Foundation.

On September 30 and October 1, 2019, the College Completion Summit brought together presidents and senior leaders from public universities that have significantly advanced their college completion rates.

Vistasp Karbhari, president of the University of Texas at Arlington, delivered the keynote for the panel discussion titled “Data and Technology Contributions to Completion.”

Vistasp Karbhari:  Maybe technology can help us do a lot more in terms of supplemental material, and to allow us the use of simulation, virtual reality and augmented reality. But more important than that, technology allows us that constant encouragement and contact 24-7.

This is where I’ll be the first one to tell something this afternoon that might go across the grain. We’re talking about technology and data, and I’m going to make a very clear statement. If we automate everything we will fail. Because at the end of the day what we need is that human touch.

So, we could automate things, but we always have to be able to go back to the student and tell them why. For example, why are we sending them texts? Sending them 15 texts to remind them to do something is great, and it helps. But there’s a large percentage of the population that looks at it and says, “Why? Why am I being told to do this?” And if we forget that part about it, we’re not going to be doing very well. But we also have to provide teaching and mentorship as the student needs it, rather than as we think we should be able to give it.

I don’t know about all of you, but when I used to teach, I thought I knew how my students would think. I thought that just as I, multitasking was not a good thing. So, if someone was listening to music, simultaneously eating, simultaneously doing something on a computer, talking on the phone, and trying to do their homework, that was a recipe for disaster.

However, we look at students today, their brains are wired in a very, very different way. And if we really look at how they play computer games, you’ll actually find out that they’re taking in far more information and retaining it than we ever could. Which also means that our way of reaching out to them has to be different.

UMC: Frank Dooley, senior vice provost for teaching and learning at Purdue University, leads the discussion.

Frank Dooley: The first question I ask then, we’ll be hearing about everyone’s schools and as they do their introduction of themselves, what I’m asking them to do is define for you or give you an example of one key technology that they’ve put in place on their campus that they believe is helping college completion.

UMC: Here’s Fredrick Corey, vice provost for undergraduate education at Arizona State University.

Frederick Corey: In 2007 we started this whole cultural transformation at the university to organize around the student rather than the faculty or the university itself. And we created this whole suite of tools that we continued to develop called E-Advisor.

The idea is that students get the information they need about their degree programs when they want it via technology. So, they’re able to get their degree mappings, their degree progress, where they’re off track, where they’re on track. Transfer students are able to see exactly which courses are going to apply to their degree program. All of this stuff can be done using technology and this saves the face time for other pressing issues like: “What am I doing here?” or “I feel like I’m lost in the world.” And that’s where that human interaction can occur.

UMC: Here’s Shelley Germana, associate provost for undergraduate education at Stony Brook University.

Shelley Germana:  So, in 2014, our then president actually had a meeting at the White House under the Obama administration about increasing graduation rates. And so he made a commitment at that meeting to increase our graduation rate to 60% by 2018. That was in four years. And then we actually found out about that at the White House press release.

So, at the time that was a pretty big stretch for us. Actually, over the last six years we’ve been able to increase our graduation rate by 17 percentage points. And really our equity gaps, with the exception of one, ours have been closed, which I can actually talk about. I probably will talk about later. But what I want to say about that just related to how we’ve done that is really been largely through what we call a full-court press.

And that’s really a combination of high tech and high touch. And I think that was really emphasized before that it really has to be people driven.

So where did the technology kind of come into that? Well this technology, we actually use the EAB Navigate platform, as I know many people do. We were part of actually the foundation, a group with EAB, and continued on into Navigate. But the way that the technology sort of features into that is related to the vocalization of that full-court press. We like to look at it really as a mobilization of the full-court press.

So, through progress reports, through directed outreach, strategic outreach, strategic campaigns. Really putting the information in front of advisors as well as other units for a real coordinated care approach.

UMC: Here’s Paul Dosal, vice president for student success at University of South Florida.

Paul Dosal:  I want to tell you about one innovation we developed to help out with our student success efforts. A tool that we built to help our care team provide care to our students in a timely way.

We formed a persistence committee back in 2016 to utilize predictive analytics to identify students who would benefit from some kind of intervention. And this is cross-functional team of 20-plus people found themselves over time basically developing and applying a case management approach to promote student success. Eventually our VP of IT found out about what we were doing and what we needed. I had a team of people basically using spreadsheets and Microsoft Outlook and whatever they could to communicate with each other and the students. And so he came to me and said, “Look, I understand you want to develop a case management approach. You need some technology for it. I’ve got a solution for you.” He came from USF Health. They had an understanding of what we needed to do. As I mentioned, he says, “Look, I can develop a platform for you in a low-code platform, working with a company called Appian. And we can deploy it within 12 weeks.” I said, “Do it!”

It’s a tool developed by end-users to help them communicate with each other and students and deploy what we’re now calling a care management team to promote student success. It shows the value of breaking down silos. We’ve heard a whole lot about breaking down silos, between academics and students. The other one we need to work on is the silos that prevent collaborations between IT and IR offices along with ours. It’s done wonders for us at USF.

UMC: The panel gives their closing statements. Vistasp Karbhari, University of Texas at Arlington.

Vistasp Karbhari:  If I may, just one thing for us all. We have a lot of data. We have a lot of technology. I would encourage us to see what we could do to use it to increase our reach, rather than decrease it. We have the ability to have more students attend our universities and I know as a president, that every time I say that, it causes everyone to jump up and down, not in joy, but in fear. Because it says, “We can’t do it with 10,000 students” or in my case, 60,000. How are we now going to do it with 80,000?” That’s our responsibility and if we use that data and technology correctly, we should be able to increase access rather than decrease it.

UMC: Fredrick Corey, Arizona State University

Fredrick Corey: I would add to that that universities have long used data in order to decide who to admit. I mean this is what elite universities have done in this country for years, is they use data to decide who is likely to succeed, and they admit those students and don’t admit the rest. And I think that our collective mission is to resist that trend. Right? And to use the data not to decide who to exclude, but who to include and how we’re going to help those individual students succeed.

UMC: Shelley Germana, Stony Brook University

Shelley Germana: You don’t get to choose the data that you have. So, you have, in other words, and I think if I had more time, I would be able to talk a little bit about our male completion issue. But part of it is also that we have to really address what the data tell us. But if it’s telling us something about the student population and a particular student group that requires attention, then we should think about it or we should study it, we should act on it and then we should evaluate and apply kind of an intervention in the treatment. But you don’t get to choose what the data tell us all the time and we really do have to act on it, if there are students that require our support.

UMC: Paul Dosal, University of South Florida

Paul Dosal: These days I’m not sure we have a choice but to use data analytics and technology to promote student success. It’s on us. We have to do it. We have the power. We have the capability. I think it’s a matter of figuring out how best to use the tools that are available to us or that could be available to us. But we owe it to our students to do this and so we’ll continue the work.

UMC: Thank you for listening. Find the audio recap of the next panel discussion, “Public Perceptions in Higher Education,” and other summit proceedings at