Starfish: Student success at ‘the click of a button’

Starfish Retention Solutions logo.University officials are encouraged with preliminary results of an “early alert” program aimed at improving the academic success and retention of students, one of the cornerstones of YSU’s 2020 Strategic Plan.

The program from Starfish Retention Services Inc., headquartered in Arlington, Va., helps identify as soon as possible any student who is not satisfactorily progressing in a class and promptly directs them to the appropriate campus services where they can get the assistance needed to succeed.

“This is the most delightful way I have seen to give students holistic support from faculty, advisors, administration and campus support centers,” said Jonelle Beatrice, associate executive director of Student Life and functional lead for the implementation of the Starfish software.

“With state funding relying more heavily on retention and graduation rates, more and more universities have been looking into this type of retention software,” said Jeanne Herman, YSU registrar.

Starfish was introduced this spring semester and is being used to monitor about a dozen courses. The program will be expanded to all freshmen-level courses in the summer and fall semesters. By next spring semester, the system will be in place for all courses on campus. Training for academic advisors started in March, with training for faculty scheduled for later in the spring and into the summer.

The program operates through a series of surveys and flags. Surveys are sent to faculty members at key times each semester. “Our goal is to grab students before they are into the eighth week of the semester and they already are failing a class,” Herman said.

Faculty members indicate in the surveys each student who is demonstrating attendance or academic performance concerns. If attendance or academic performance is sub-standard, that student is flagged, and an email is automatically sent from the instructor to the student. Another email is generated from the Center for Student Progress directing the student to the appropriate campus resources to get help. In the case of first-year students, a peer mentor will make direct contact through both email and phone.

Beatrice said that until the implementation of Starfish, the Center for Student Progress struggled to form an effective student-faculty-advisor-CSP communication network. “We collected information, but there was no way for us to form a communication loop; that’s vital,” she said.

Herman, project manager of the Starfish implementation, said Starfish offers early intervention capability on the part of the faculty and administration, rather than putting the impetus on students to first ask for help.

“Who better to identify if a student is struggling than the instructor?” she said.

Beatrice said the ease of the Starfish software  – “It takes the click of a button; it’s amazing” – has resulted in a 100-percent participation rate by faculty in the pilot courses, and a high percentage of positive student responses to seek assistance.

The university chose Starfish after a thorough review of five other retention systems. Starfish President David Yaskin, former vice president of Blackboard Inc., visited campus to close the deal.

“We all agreed that this was the software and the program that best met our needs,” Herman said.

(This is the third in a series of stories on the implementation of the YSU 2020 Strategic Plan.)