Paul Smith’s College Improves Student Retention by 17 Percent Through Comprehensive Student Support Program

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Starfish 360 Award-Winning Institution Recognized for Commitment to Holistic Student Success

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Our Comprehensive Student Support Program – powered by the Starfish system – has had a profound impact on our campus community and, most important, on the success of our students.

Starfish Retention Solutions, Inc., a leading student success company, announced that Paul Smith’s College’s Comprehensive Student Support Program is credited with improving first-time, full-time student retention by 17 percent for the fall 2013 term. The gain is the latest in a series of impressive results born of a multiyear initiative to help students at Paul Smith’s College achieve success in their academic pursuits.

For its work, Paul Smith’s College was granted a 2013 Starfish 360 Award™ by a panel of independent judges. The Starfish 360 Awards Program is designed to highlight client institutions that are using technology to help students in innovative and impactful ways. The institution plans to use the monetary award to introduce “engagement lunches” intended to foster connections between transitional students and their faculty advisors.

Paul Smith’s College is a four-year private institution in New York. By almost every measure, its student population is considered high risk. Nearly half are first-generation college students. More than 40 percent of first-year students are eligible for Pell grants. Over the past decade, a variety of support services had been implemented to improve student retention, including the creation of an Office of Retention. Nevertheless, the institution was not able to overcome these inherent risk factors, resulting in persistent low retention and graduation rates.

In 2010, the institution began a new approach through the creation of a Comprehensive Student Support Program. The program emerged from the institution’s inclusive and campus-wide self-study and strategic planning processes, which identified problems with the institution’s information flow and communication management between faculty and student support offices.

The program is built on four principles: (1) changing from retention to a student success focus, (2) using real-time information and an automated communication hub to coordinate student support efforts, (3) keeping the information and communications plan as simple and intuitive as possible, and (4) utilizing a change management theory to smooth obstacles to implementation.

“It was during our planning process that we realized that we could not succeed without technology to break down information silos, ensure that everyone was on the same page regarding the student’s situation and to increase our efficiency, because we would be dramatically increasing the number of students we were attempting to serve,” said Loralyn Taylor, Ph.D., director of institutional research and registrar at the college. Hence, Paul Smith’s College licensed the Starfish® Enterprise Success Platform™.

Using the Starfish platform solved the institution’s information and communication problems and enabled a change in campus culture from a retention model to a student success focus. In addition, the platform helped the institution get the right student to the right service at the right time.

“Since its founding, Paul Smith’s College has been committed to changing lives through education. However, this has not always been an easy task,” said John Mills, Ph.D., president of the college. “Our Comprehensive Student Support Program – powered by the Starfish system – has had a profound impact on our campus community and, most important, on the success of our students. As a result, more than 100 students are attending Paul Smith’s College who would not have been here if this initiative had not succeeded.”

In addition to the gains in first-time, full-time retention, the program has also resulted in an 11.4 percent increase in term grade point averages above a 2.0, a 38 percent decrease in students on probation or suspension, a 53 percent decrease in withdraws, and a return on investment of more than $3 million across 2.5 years.

The Starfish Enterprise Success Platform builds on the company’s mission to help students finish what they start. Comprising four distinct but connected modules, the platform enables institutions to view all of their campus data and activities through the lens of student success. Starfish EARLY ALERT enables institutions to learn more about their students as early as possible. Starfish CONNECT makes it easy for students to engage with those on campus dedicated to their success. Starfish ADVISING gives students an academic path to follow in order to achieve success. And Starfish INSIGHT, which will be available in 2014, will enable institutions to measure the effectiveness of their student success initiatives.

“The Starfish 360 Awards Program judges were impressed by Paul Smith’s strategic use of technology to enable a new campus culture. In addition, the judges appreciated the institution’s tremendous efforts to share their experiences with the higher education community through countless presentations, white papers, and journal articles,” said David Yaskin, CEO of Starfish Retention Solutions. “Their hard work has resulted in impressive results – the greatest of which is knowing that more than 100 additional students are able to continue pursuing their goals because of the institution’s dedication to help all students finish what they start.”

Webinar Invitation: Loralyn Taylor, Ph.D., director of institutional research and registrar, and Virginia McAleese, professor, will be discussing Paul Smith’s College’s Comprehensive Student Support Program on Thursday, Feb. 20, at 2 p.m. ET. Register at

About Starfish Retention Solutions

Starfish Retention Solutions is a leading provider of student success systems. The Starfish Enterprise Success Platform™ consists of four software modules that collectively harness the power of the campus community in order to help students finish what they start. Specifically, the modules help institutions identify at-risk students in real time based on their daily coursework performance and faculty concerns and then connect them to the resources designed to help (e.g., advising or tutoring), all while assessing which services and interventions are working. For more information, please call 703.260.1186 or visit

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John Plunkett
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