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Data and Case Management Drive Student Success at USF
USF graduates

The momentum has been building at the University of South Florida. Programs implemented. Staff recruited. Measurements established. Powerful tools put to work. A movement, initiated in 2009, has taken root and taken off, shifting the USF culture to one focused on Student Success.

As a result, the university has experienced unprecedented gains in both student retention and graduation rates, two key metrics established to measure student success. The six-year graduation rate dramatically improved from 48 percent in 2009 to nearly 70 today. The retention of first-year students has also climbed to an impressive 90 percent, reflecting the university’s success in helping students transition and adapt to the rigors of college. Additionally, USF has eliminated the gap in graduation rates by race, ethnicity, and income—exceeding national averages by a wide margin.

"At USF, we believe that all students can and will succeed if given the opportunity," said Paul Dosal, Vice President of Student Affairs & Student Success. It is this fundamental principle that guides the university’s Student Success movement, but it is an innovative model that is now powering it.

The Journey to Case Management

With graduation rates less than 50 percent but aspirations to be a top-ranked university nationally, USF launched a formal student success initiative in 2009, naming Dr. Paul Dosal as Vice President of Student Success. Over the course of several years, with the guidance of the Student Success Committee, numerous programs, policies, and services were implemented to remove obstacles and streamline students’ paths to success. These efforts resulted in significant gains in retention and graduation rates, but, in 2012, USF hit a progress plateau, stalling its progression towards the university’s goals.

Leveraging the data gathered from a survey of its incoming first-year students, USF was using an innovative homegrown predictive model to help identify students most likely to need support to succeed. Staff members focused their outreach on the 10 percent of first-year students identified by the model and such proactive efforts saw positive results; but, again, not enough to move off the plateau.

What if the university could leverage more of its student data and get real-time results? This insightful question raised by administrators and members of the university’s Student Success Committee led USF into the powerful world of Big Data and the use of predictive analytics through a partnership with Civitas Learning.

Instead of having timestamped data from multiple sources to manually analyze and interpret, the Civitas Learning platform provided real-time actionable data that took into account dozens of factors plus class attendance and performance. If a student starts to slip, the system flags them immediately – no waiting for mid-term grades (which might be too late) to determine if a student needs extra support.

With such insightful actionable data at the fingertips of USF staff and faculty, it naturally led to a conversation about how best to put this data to use. Inspired by the healthcare industry’s case management model for personalized patient care, Student Success leadership established a Persistence Committee early in 2016 to develop and oversee a case management model on campus. This cross-functional team – including representation from Advising, Financial Aid, Career Services, Counseling Center, Housing and beyond – is ready to address the myriad of issues that could affect a student’s success and take action.

With the help of a team of academic advocates plus numerous others, the Persistence Committee oversees the coordination of outreach to individual students identified weekly via the Civitas platform. This level of personalized outreach, the coordination of helpful resources, and follow up with each student is making its mark. In April 2017, the university’s retention rate hit 90 percent – achieving a university goal ahead of schedule – and a 70 percent six-year graduation rate is anticipated in the not so distant future.

Sharing the Model for Success

By utilizing powerful predictive analytics and adopting the healthcare industry’s case management model, USF has radically transformed and redefined Student Success, not only on its campus but nationally. The gains in retention and graduation rates resulting from these initiatives and the university’s entire Student Success movement are garnering attention and moving USF to the forefront of the national conversation on student success.

This week, Dr. Dosal is presenting on USF’s Student Success movement at both the Civitas Learning Summit 2017 in Austin, TX on April 10 and The Atlantic’s third annual Education Summit in Washington, DC on April 11.

Additionally, a number of national organizations have recognized USF. In 2016, Eduventures ranked USF as the nation’s top performer in “Overall Student Success” and then recognized the university with the Eduventures 2016 Innovation Award last fall for its utilization of performance data to improve first-year retention. The Education Trust recently ranked USF number one in the state of Florida and sixth in the nation for black student success, specifically highlighting the elimination of the gap in graduation rates between black and white students. USF is also one of a small group of universities recently selected by the Foundation for Student Success to mentor three universities/ colleges and share its roadmap for student success that helped to close the achievement gap.

Related link:
Inside the metrics machine: USF uses big data to find, and help, overburdened students
Tampa Bay Times - April 1, 2017