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Montclair State uses technology to prevent students from quitting school

Montclair State University has begun using software called Navigate that assists employees in academic advising with the goal of preventing students from quitting school. Navigate connects students with university career and tutoring services. That way students can share their struggles once and it will be seen by Montclair State employees with whom they interact.

David Hood, the associate provost for undergraduate education and dean of Montclair State’s University College, said students quit school because they experience hunger, homelessness, a lack of money, sickness, a lack of transportation, a death in the family or are a victim of sexual assault.

“Any traumatic experience that a student could have could trigger a number of other things that could prevent them from finishing school,” Hood said. “Universities will have to be more nimble to be able to accommodate students with their necessary stops and detours.”

David Hood and Danielle Insalaco‑Egan. - MONTCLAIR STATE UNIVERSITY

David Hood and Danielle Insalaco‑Egan.

Hood likens the system to an app used by hospitals that allows doctors to see all of a patient’s relevant information. “It allows us to do the same thing for a student. Everyone on this campus who touches a student’s life as they matriculate will be able to see what the history is that has been going on with the student. Who have they met with? What issues or obstacles have they encountered throughout their matriculation?”

The technology provides a forum for communication so students do not have to share their stories more than once. Some students are struggling with personal problems like every person on the planet and need a word of encouragement to stay in school.

The software allows Montclair State to use predictive analytics to identify when students are likely to quit, explained Danielle Insalaco-Egan, the assistant provost for student success at Montclair State. As a result, university staff will intervene to assist students who might otherwise drop out.

A major key to preventing students from quitting school is building relationships, she said. Montclair State is using money from a Title III grant to help employees to build sustained relationships with students. That way, students know who will help them.

“When a student needs to seek help, she knows exactly who to go to,” Insalaco-Egan said. “[A student] does not have to go to an anonymous center where she walks in and sees a different person every time. Her story is already in the platform so anyone who meets with her has access to information about her.”

Insalaco-Egan said students require guidance to deal with a system as complex as a university. “Students need a consistent experience across the campus so they know what to expect in terms of the kind of help they may need.”

In this way students who face obstacles know if they should withdraw from a course, and know how to seek academic assistance.

Navigate ensures that Montclair State employees communicate with each other and students see all of those exchanges. Instructors also provide progress reports, so students are not surprised in the last week of the semester to learn they are failing, Insalaco-Egan said.

A student meets face-to-face with his or her advisor and Navigate provides a platform to connect a professor and advisor. This so-called coordinated care it allows faculty members to report on their students within Navigate.

“It embeds the advisor into the classroom, where she is normally not in that space to learn what is going on,” she said. “The faculty member has raised an alert in the platform, a little flag that says a student is struggling because she is missing assignments and has poor grades. The advisor has real information directly from the faculty member about how the student is performing and can use that both as an ice-breaker and as an action plan to help the student make a decision about the plan she needs to undertake in order to ensure her success in that class.”

The new technology is available to 17,000 undergraduates at Montclair State. About 765 faculty members had used Navigate as of Nov. 6, Hood said. More than 35,000 kudos or alerts had been issued as of Nov. 6, which provides more information to empower students with completing their courses, Hood said.

David Hutter
David Hutter grew up in Darien, Conn., and covers higher education, transportation and manufacturing for NJBIZ. He can be reached at: dhutter@njbiz.com.

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