Starfish, PAR presented

August 7, 2015

Long-planned reporting methods unveiled in council

Starfish Demonstration by Dr. Nadja Johnson, Director of Diversity and Student Success at Valley City State University. (Photo by VCSU Media Communications Specialist Mark Potts)

Starfish Demonstration by Dr. Nadja Johnson, Director of Diversity and Student Success at Valley City State University. (Photo by VCSU Media Communications Specialist Mark Potts)

Members of the Academic Affairs Council got their first look at two separate and distinct data tracking methodology frameworks that could help North Dakota University System’s goal of providing actionable and specific insight to its stakeholders for student success.

The first, Starfish, is a data-tracking system that helps monitor student persistence, for holding enrollment levels stable, advising, and use by counselors, faculty, tutors and other support resources.

The second, Predictive Analytics Reporting Framework offers common data definitions throughout its 351 unique member campuses and millions of records. NDUS’ inclusion into the framework offers the system benefits like student-level data such as watch lists and structures interventions, as well as higher-level trends that could color future policy. NDUS joined PAR in July. Inclusion into PAR was fully funded by the North Dakota Legislature during the 64th Assembly. It was championed by the N.D. Legislature’s Interim Higher Education Committee Chair, Rep. Mark Sanford.

Tuesday’s afternoon meeting of the AAC offered members a look at how membership into the two frameworks will benefit the system’s 11 colleges and universities.

Dr. Nadia Johnson, the director of diversity and student success at VCSU, presented Starfish, noting that the service has already been implemented at Valley City State University and is moving forward at University of North Dakota. Johnson noted that Starfish provides early alert services, and each campus could begin utilizing it for their own needs. She provided examples of that, including using it to generate semester reports instead of Campus Connection.

Johnson stated that the system had been live at VCSU since 2013. She noted that in the spring of this year it had been utilized to communicate with 724 unique students about their academic progress.

“As far as we know, the system has been successful at communicating concerns to students, faculty and staff,” Johnson said. “We have definitely had success in improving efficiency of our financial aid verification of student attendance as well as faculty midterm reporting. On average, 96 percent of our faculty (including adjunct faculty) use Starfish to report concerns. Our coaches, faculty and other staff all report benefits of keeping informed with students who may need some extra assistance and outreach. We also have been able to reach out to students who may not have otherwise known there was a concern.”

Dr. Tom DiLorenzo presented on PAR. He touched on performance metrics for the data system that provided a view of student patterns.

“PAR can be used in many different ways,” DiLorenzo said. “It’s a framework for data mining collaborative among two-year and four-year institutions. The bottom line is that it’s a massive amount of data. By looking at it across and within schools you begin to find patterns that help us design intervention strategies. It’s all part of predicting and preventing student loss.”

DiLorenzo presented some UND’s findings on PAR, including online student metrics and recognizing what groups that were more at-risk for stopping out.

Presentations continued well into the mid-afternoon on the topics, specifically to familiarize the AAC members on PAR. Richard Rothaus, Interim Vice Chancellor of Academic and Student Affairs, said utilizing both as tracking tools and alert systems could greatly benefit students.

“It (Starfish) allows us to use data – like attendance and grades to get notifications that let us know students need help,” Rothaus said. “For example, we know that students who are over 24 and are in college for the first time have a real hard time in that first semester.  We can set Starfish to send advisors an email alert, and they can reach out.

“The real power of PARS and Starfish is that it can track multiple factors that we can’t do by hand,” he continued. “It also lets us identify risk factors we may not have noticed – like classes that, when failed, cause students to completely drop out, not just change majors.”

Rothaus added that he felt both PAR and Starfish were excellent tools.

“We can do much with their adoption,” he concluded. “There are challenges also – each institution is unique and they will have to learn how to make the tools work for them.  So this will be something we will grow over the next few years.”