ETSU is making use of a computer system that mines available student data to help at risk students stay in school or transfer to a career path more compatible with their interests and skill set.

The system, called the Student Success Collaborative, is offered through the Education Advisory Board, a company that provides resources and consultations to a network of universities and community colleges across the country.

Universities can join this network, also called the Student Success Collaborative, for a fee and communicate with other educational institutions about how to help more students succeed in college.

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education William Kirkwood said the platform enables advisors to look at students’ GPA trends to assess how well they’re performing academically.

“If a student’s GPA is pretty much flat over time or slightly improving, that’s a pretty good sign that that student’s doing OK,” Kirkwood said. “But a downward trending GPA is a little bit of a flag that we might want to reach out to that student and see if there’s a reason why that student seems to be having a little bit more difficulty each term.”

The SSC only uses the data available in the university’s current data set, and student information is only seen by the university’s advising staff and certain administrators.

Kirkwood said the system also makes use of an algorithm enabling it to predict the degree to which a student is on track to graduate. The results are based on several factors.

“When we say a student makes a C in a course, is that anything to be concerned about or not?” Kirkwood said. “Well, on the one hand, the really simple answer is, ‘No, it’s a C, they earned credit for the course.’”

On the other hand, Kirkwood said it’s also important to assess the types of career goals the student is considering. If the student wants to go to medical school, a C might be a troubling indicator depending on the class in which the student received the grade.

“It makes a world of difference whether they got the C in microbiology or in art history,” Kirkwood said. “Art history and microbiology are both valuable courses, but the one is probably a lot more connected to the student’s goal.”

The system also provides a means for advisors to suggest alternative majors to students if their work in a course essential to their major isn’t indicative of future success in their field.

For example, Kirkwood said a hypothetical accounting student who makes a C in Probability and Statistics and a B minus in their first accounting course might consider switching to a different major.

“It may be that accounting isn’t the best choice for them in terms of what they’re naturally good at and what they naturally enjoy,” Kirkwood said. “The other thing that advisors can do using the SSC is to have a conversation with that student about would there be some other options that would be equally attractive to you or maybe even more attractive than accounting.”

The SSC offers an effective tool for the professional advisors who began working at ETSU earlier this semester and is representative of the university’s latest effort to increase the number of students graduating on time.

“It’s really all about student success,” Kirkwood said. “That means helping students earn their degrees, first, and second of all earn their degrees in majors that make sense for them that will help lay the foundation for what they want to do in life.”