I remember a friend of mine at university. Sam* was a clever chap, studying astrophysics, and seemed to have some really interesting ideas about the nature of the Hubble Constant, the rate of expansion in the universe. Well beyond me, but impressive to his lecturers by all accounts.

The thing about Sam was that while obviously clever, and a good student, he was totally unable to organise his life in any meaningful way. He had little funding, and never really sorted out proper accommodation.

He spent a number of semesters bouncing around other people’s dorms and sleeping on couches. As you can imagine, this had a detrimental effect on his ability to study. He began to miss lectures, fail submissions, and eventually dropped out at the end of the second year despite his academic excellence.

Late in the day, he was offered basic accommodation by the Student Services Department but it was too late to have any effect and change the outcome.

Now for Sam this had a deep and personal impact to his education and future career aspirations. For the university, they lost a student of great potential over a simple issue that could have been easily sorted within their existing process framework. The problem for the university was they just didn’t know about his predicament or its effect on his engagement until it was too late. Disconnected information in combination with manually driven assessments let all parties down.

Nowadays, could this be avoided and would the outcomes be any different?

I feel the answer to both is yes.

Firstly, legislation is changing the university’s perception of the student.  Under the new regime, funding is now following the individual student.   Universities now need to view the student as a customer, and this will become a key to their future competitiveness in the market.

The challenge is now to attract students through academic excellence, and then proactively identify problems at the earliest point. A university’s systems and processes must facilitate a simple and timely intervention for a positive outcome; retain the student, and ensure success.

The second change is a technological revolution supporting the gathering and analysis of lots of information from disparate sources (currently being called big data).

The average university gathers student data from many touch points. Common examples are face-time attendance, access to services, virtual learning and on-campus library usage, course submissions and assessments.  The change is how technology can use sophisticated algorithms to surface potentially disengaged students earlier than ever before. These algorithms would likely be different for each university and indeed for each faculty. The rules for nursing would differ to arts and humanities, one size does not fit all.  The presentation method would typically be the university’s business intelligence platform, for example I would recommend Qlikview.  Once a student is identified as at-risk, a university counsellor would open a casebook to evaluate, engage and resolve the situation.  For adaptive case management with sophisticated and flexible workflow, I would recommend  XMPro.

We recently published a very interesting survey that measured the challenges of university student engagement and retention here in the UK.

In Sam’s case, his declining attendance and deteriorating results would now trigger early alarm bells in the form of orange lights on the engagement dashboard and workflow-driven counselling that assigned someone to help him with his problems.

As for Sam, his universe has expanded at a steady rate and by all accounts, he is doing well.

* Not his real name.


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