Software geared at bolstering retention at YSU

By Denise Dick


A new software package at Youngstown State University allows officials to refer students who need assistance to appropriate resources on campus.

It’s called Starfish, and it’s geared at bolstering retention. The cost is $30,000 annually, and Ron Cole, YSU spokesman, said in an email that most schools that implement it realize at least a 2 percent increase in student retention the first semester the system is fully implemented.

That would be spring 2013 at YSU.

“That kind of increase in student retention would more than cover the cost,” Cole said.

YSU saw a 4 percent enrollment drop between fall 2010 and fall 2011 and attributed a portion of that to undergraduates who didn’t return.

Jonelle Beatrice, director of the Center for Student Progress, said the end users for the new software are faculty.

If they have concerns about a student, either because of poor class attendance or poor performance, they notify the center.

“The Center for Student Progress intervenes when a flag goes up,” Beatrice said.

Beatrice gets an email relaying a professor’s concerns and the student is contacted.

The student may be referred for supplemental instruction or tutoring or other services on campus for help, said Jack Fahey, vice president for student affairs.

“It puts all of the people who are trying to help that student be successful on the same page and up to date with the information,” he said.

The program was piloted with a small group of freshmen during the spring semester and will expand to all freshmen this fall.

Fahey said it’s proved successful in piloting and has been well-received by students.

Because there’s a lot of work involved, the university wants to ensure it can handle the additional tasks before including the full student population, he said.

“Freshmen typically need the most help,” he said. “That’s why we’re starting there.”

Because of privacy rules, only people within the center and those who send the alerts are aware of them.

Starfish also may be used to send kudos to a student who demonstrated improvement, Beatrice said.

While faculty have always been able to alert the center when they believe a student needs help, she said Starfish “closes the loop.”

In the past, the university sent out paper forms that faculty were asked to complete regarding students.

Besides acting on faculty’s concerns about students expressed through the program, the Center for Student Progress also sends emails to faculty using Starfish twice per semester, asking them to indicate if there are attendance or course- performance issues with students.

Professors also learn about the actions taken for the student through the program.

“We can keep them up to date with what’s happened with their referral,” Beatrice said.

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