Utilising Data Analytics to Improve Support for Students From a Wide Range of Backgrounds

By Salesforce.org | November 28, 2019 | Education, Higher Education, Student Success, The EdTech Podcast

In The Edge: Innovation & Intelligence Podcast #2, Sophie Bailey investigates how to move the dial on diversity in Higher Education Leadership with three higher ed leaders. One of them is Charles Prince, Director of the Center for Student Success at the University of East London. Earlier this year, as part of our student success survey conducted in partnership with Times Higher Education, we met Charles who told us how universities can utilise data analytics to improve support for students. Here is a summary of what he shared with us.

Utilising data analytics to improve support for students from a wide range of backgrounds

Today, education leaders are aware that in order to drive institutional and student success, they need to provide students with a broad range of support mechanisms. 

In the UK, feedback from the National Student Survey provides a helpful annual picture of student satisfaction levels, but the data is limited: participation levels have been known to fluctuate, varying widely between institutions, and statistics gathered can only tell part of a university’s unique story.

Seven years ago, the University of East London took matters into its own hands by opening the Centre for Student Success for support services tailored to meet the needs of students from the point of enrollment to graduation and beyond. For Charles Prince, the centre’s director, monitoring the individual characteristics of those who seek out student support services is crucial in ensuring the most vulnerable receive the right kind of help to boost their achievements.

“We reach out to applicants at the point of acceptance [onto a degree course] with a pre-entry survey to identify individual support needs,” says Dr Prince. “Based on their responses, we can assist with personalised referrals to support services and identify pre-entry workshops to prepare our incoming students for their degrees.”

The range of services offered to UEL students is impressive: from additional academic tutoring and mentoring to counselling and support for well-being, to graduate employment schemes. But it is the ongoing data gathered by the centre’s impact and analytics team which has made the centre itself a success. 

Dr Prince’s team has access to student characteristics so that each time a new student enrols or seeks advice from the centre, the team is able to build an increasingly accurate profile of its student community and the challenges faced by them. “For example,” Dr Prince continues, “we know that of those who identify themselves [to the support services], 90 per cent are from Black and Minority Ethnicity”.

Utilising data analytics to improve support for students from a wide range of backgrounds

“We focus on things like late induction – whether a student struggles after a late start,” he continues “These [factors] should be linked to using data analytics to help make better decisions about implementing the right interventions”.

Reducing student drop-out rates at UEL – which services a historically underprivileged area of London – has been a major priority for the centre. Since improving its focus on data analytics, however, the proportion of students opting to withdraw from courses has decreased – falling by 50 per cent this year compared with 2017/18. The number of students who went through with their request for a withdrawal fell from about 600 students to 380. 

Last year, another of UEL’s student support initiatives earned the university Widening Participation or Outreach Initiative of the Year in the 2018 THE Awards. “New Beginnings” is a short course programme aiming to help mature students build confidence in their ability to study, with the longer-term goal of allowing them to enrol on a degree level programme at the university. 

“Ultimately there are a number of reasons why adults have not had the opportunity or pathway to higher education,” says Dr Prince, reflecting on the success of the programme. 

The figures speak for themselves: 203 applicants were accepted for the 2016/17 academic year, and two-thirds passed. Of those who went on to enrol in UEL undergraduate courses the following year, 72 per cent achieved a 2:1 or first-class degree.

For graduates of the New Beginnings course who do go on to study at UEL, the Centre for Student Success is a natural next-step in support. 

Utilising data analytics to improve support for students from a wide range of backgrounds3

A survey conducted by THE and Salesforce.org highlights the perceived difficulty in tracking student support metrics. Of the 295 respondents, 32 per cent agreed that it was “somewhat difficult” to access and report on student success data. 

In the view of Dr Prince, however, the use of technology to improve student outcomes should neither be a practical, nor moral quandary for educational leaders.

“No university should have a fear of using machine learning or AI technology because it surrounds everybody all the time, every day,” he says. “To not apply it to our personal and professional lives is to do a disservice to the organisations [that universities] support, but also to the support of students so they can be ready for the workplace”.

“The best part of my job is to see those students from low-income areas, who don’t have social and cultural backing – who came to the university on a wing and a prayer – are actually being successful, getting jobs and fulfilling their dreams,” Dr Prince concludes.

If you liked this article, you can continue learning more on how to drive student success at your institution by watching our on-demand webinar: The Future of Student Success and Advising 

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At Salesforce.org, the higher education community is our compass guiding us as we develop Education Cloud to better serve the needs of the industry and today’s students. That is why we strive to gather higher ed professionals like Charles to transform the future of education. The “Edge” is one of the ways we stay plugged in and move the discussion forward. In this podcast series in partnership with the EdTech Podcast, we seek out the stories of Higher Education leadership among people doing things differently, collaboratively, and bending away from the status quo. Listen to our latest episode on Equity, Equality & Diversity in Higher Ed Leadership.

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