Need for Early Alert Systems in Higher Ed Institutions
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Need for Early Alert Systems in Higher Ed Institutions


Student attrition has become an important concern for colleges and universities in the United States. As per the data submitted by various Higher Ed institutions to the National Centre for Education Statistics (NCES), the total financial loss estimated across 1,295 US colleges and universities is nearly $33 billion per year On an average, a US college or university retains only 71% of its students year over year, and loses $25.3 million every year as a result of student attrition. The solution ranked highest to curb student attrition is an Early Alert System.

Early alerts facilitate faculty members or advisors to identify at-risk students and share that information amongst student support staff in the campus. A well strategized, orchestrated and implemented  Early Alert System should prevent students from slipping through the cracks by allowing for timely intervention. In reality, many uncoordinated real time practices tend to hinder the efficiency of early-alert programs.

So let’s discuss the reasons that make early alert systems fall short and strategies to make them more efficient

There are three main reasons for this pitfall

Lack of Clear Objectives

Many early-alert programs do not focus beyond identifying students who may be at risk. Once a potential at risk student is identified, what next? is the question. Faculty end up flagging a huge volume of potential risks and are overwhelmed with their abilities to resolve them. Lack of clear and narrowed objectives is a reason that fizzles out early alert systems.

Lack of clear follow up processes

Without clear instructions on how to respond to early alerts, advisors and staff respond in varying ways impacting the efficiency of the early alert system. A blueprint on how to respond to early alerts makes the system sustainable, and eventually invincible. Intervention mechanisms ought to be clearly defined and tracking outcomes is imperative.

Lack of faculty participation

Faculty participation is fundamental and inevitable for a successful early alert system. It’s obvious that without faculty members’ continued involvement, student support staff wouldn’t know which students are at risk or offer them care.

Now can you improve faculty participation? Let us dig deeper.

Face-to-face meetings:

Administrative staff in charge of student affairs or student success need to conduct face-to-face meetings with faculty members. They need to be made aware of the challenges faced by students and how that affects institutional growth and brand equity. This will facilitate them to become more receptive to engaging themselves in effective implementation of early alert systems. In short, getting their ‘buy in’ is key to the success of an efficacious and constructive early alert program.

Taking a more sophisticated look at DFW rates:

Some faculty members perceive that DFW rates that are used to indicate that students’ lower performance is a way of finding fault with themselves. We need to level with the faculty members and make them realize that we are willing to delve deeper into the DFW rate Data. In fact, the college is more concerned about specific groups of students, and this is not in any way blame game but teamwork aimed at making the students and the college successful. This open communication and transparency will make them more receptive to Early Alert Systems.

Let the faculty members drive the early alert process

An early alert program has to be devised based on faculty input and preferences. The following questions are vital in helping us design the same

  • Is the faculty member able to predict the final grades of the students based on their early performances?
  • If yes, how early are they able to make an exact prediction?
  • What would help students to perform better in the course?
  • What resources would the students need to be more successful in the course?

The faculty should be the driving force in designing the Early Alert System to make it Successful in the long term.

Follow up process and managing high volume of notifications

  • A dedicated time should be solely allotted on a daily or weekly basis to early alert notification follow up. This time can be used to read and prioritize notifications and reach out to
  • Priority should be given to students with academic difficulty. Reaching out by phone or in person instead of email will encourage a meeting and facilitate counselling.
  • A more aggressive approach should be devised to follow up with students who receive more than two academic difficulty alerts.
  • Transfer students and freshmen should also be given priority in the follow up process.
  • The reporting process should be made as easy as possible for faculty members to manage their time efficiently.

Let’s celebrate the positives

As it usually goes, when a student who comes to school late is often criticized, whereas students who are on time to class is seldom celebrated.

Many lower-income students, and first generation college students in particular, often endure doubts about belonging in college. Yet while experts say that giving a positive reinforcement could improve graduation rates, systematic methods of appreciating students remain rare. Early Alert Systems should also be Early Appreciating Systems where students receive customized appreciation, when they show marked progress in their academic participation and performance. Students love to receive positive feedback and an effective Early Alert Systems should help students celebrate their progress.

Involve success coaches

Success coaches are academic counsellors who are specialists in assessing the students’ needs. Any person with sound experience in educational counselling, educational leadership, psychology or a related field can be a success coach. Success coaches are not faculty counsellors or academic advisers. They advise students or refer them to a different department in the college for help. A good coach can help students sail through academic pitfalls, especially during that critical first semester. A little intervention can mean lot a many difference between academic success and failure.

Thinking of offering a success coaching program at your college? Here are a few tips:

  1. Cross-train your success coach. Coaches should have a sound knowledge on the available resources, services and the management structure of the college and be able to facilitate student help with tutoring centers, counsellors and academic advisers.
  2. Hire friendly individuals. Students will most likely discuss highly personal problems with these coaches. These professionals have to be skilled at making students feel at ease for these interactions to be successful.
  3. Get data experts involved. The success coaching results need to be tracked as this will help coaches frame strategies and understand what questions to ask students to help them complete their degrees.

With all the above said and done, we would have turned all the stones to curb students’ attrition rates. In order to effectively capture student information, dilineate early alert situations, devise intervention programs, track progress and close the loop on student retention, needless to say we need sturdy processes and nimble software systems. In order for the for the Early Alert System to be successful customized student touchpoints have to be precise and timely, data from college systems integrated in an expeditious manner, and the decision support dashboards dynamic and meaningful. Choosing an appropriate software system with modern, mobile-first architecture, and designing business processes to support the system are key to plugging student attrition.


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