ECU Academic Advisors Share Early Alert Success Tips

After years of experience with an academic early alert system at East Carolina University, academic advisors are sharing their success tips with others through an article in the December issue of “Academic Advising Today.”

Early alert systems are one method colleges and universities around the country are employing to increase student retention and improve graduation rates. ECU implemented an early alert system called Starfish Retention Solutions ™ in the fall of 2011. It gives faculty an easy way to contact students who are showing signs of academic difficulty or academic progress, and allows advisors an opportunity to reach those students that faculty have notified.

The system is quick and simple to use, but the notification volume can be overwhelming for academic advisors when they are trying to reach all of their students. For example, in Fall 2011, 28,000 notifications (kudos, academic concerns, and attendance issues) were sent by faculty to students and their advisors. During Fall 2013, faculty initiated almost 46,000 notifications to 16,700 unique students.

“While our advisors were pleased with the assistance the Starfish program was giving them in identifying students at risk of academic difficulties,” said Kelly W. Reddick, academic advisor, Major Advisement Program, “they quickly recognized the need to identify and implement some best practices in connection with such systems.”

For example, Reddick said, many advisors have found it useful to schedule a daily or weekly time dedicated solely to notification follow-up. They also give priority to students at risk for suspension, those who have received three or more academic difficulty notifications and incoming freshmen and transfer students.

So far, email has proven to be the most efficient way to contact students, Reddick said. She noted that “short, informal messages that express concern and encourage a response seem to be a lot more effective.” 

Workshops for advisors at ECU on how to use the Starfish early alert system effectively have been very important, she said, and the team is eager to share their experience with others. In addition to this first journal article, ECU faculty are assessing the impact of the system on retention and graduation and plan to share their findings. 

The Starfish team is a Pirate CREWS faculty learning community. This community is made up of faculty, staff and administrators who met to evaluate the effectiveness of an early alert system like Starfish. Initially this group studied the general effectiveness of Starfish but their work has evolved to include identifying best practices to fully integrate this system into ECU campus culture. 

ECU team members and authors are: Kelly Reddick, academic advisor, Major Advisement Program; John Trifilo, Starfish project manager and academic advisor, College of Arts and Sciences; Steven B. Asby, associate director Academic Advising and Support; Diane Majewski, special projects director, Office of Undergraduate Studies; Jayne Geissler, executive director of retention programs and undergraduate studies.

Pirate CREW faculty learning communities are a key part of College STAR (Supporting Transition, Access and Retention) at ECU. College STAR is a project of the University of North Carolina system designed to support students with learning differences and faculty members interested in teaching methods that can facilitate student success. The program is being implemented at East Carolina University, Appalachian State University and Fayetteville State University. It is funded by the Oak Foundation of Geneva, Switzerland and the N.C. GlaxoSmithKline Foundation.