Paul Smith’s College Supports a Comprehensive Approach to Student Success With Starfish

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Facilitates Campuswide Coordination to Help Students Succeed; 91 Percent of Faculty Participate

Now with Starfish, not only have we increased the level of instructor participation, but we also have made the information available to advisors in real time, without having to spend days tabulating the results.

Starfish Retention Solutions, Inc., a leading provider of student success systems, announced today that Paul Smith’s College has deployed Starfish® to improve the institution’s student retention rate through a more comprehensive advising program for all students.

Paul Smith’s College is a private institution enrolling approximately 900 students. For years, the college has retained about 60 percent of students into their second year and, like other private institutions, has felt the effect of the recent economic collapse. The institution initially focused its retention efforts on those students traditionally thought to be high risk based on academic performance. They also created an office for student retention, started an early alert process, introduced supplemental instruction and tutoring, and created an academic recovery program for probationary students.

Although the individual programs were effective for some students, the institution identified through its Middle States Accreditation Self-Study and strategic planning process that the students dropping out were not just those traditionally considered high risk. As a result, the institution set out to expand its efforts to support all students in a more comprehensive manner.

“We added research-proven support services and dedicated staff to help our students, but we learned that if you cannot get the student to go for help or get time-sensitive information to support services, your retention efforts will not be successful,” said Dr. John Mills, president of Paul Smith’s College. “Many of our students are first-generation college students, often from rural backgrounds. They come to college thinking they have to succeed on their own. We need to collect and share information as appropriate across the campus so that our support services can be more efficient and effective at connecting with students when they show signs of trouble.”

To support its expanded focus, the institution needed to address the inherent data management issues that exist on a campus when pockets of information reside in various departments. “Indications of a student’s ability to be successful extend beyond academic performance. It is important that we also pay attention to a student’s level of engagement with the campus community, including their co-curricular activities, engagement in the residence halls and interaction with admissions counselors,” said Ginny McAleese, director of student success at Paul Smith’s College. “We needed a tool to help us facilitate this flow of information so that we can make sense of it and use it to respond quickly to our students’ needs.”

After evaluating several solutions, Paul Smith’s College adopted Starfish in the fall of 2009. By providing a centralized secure database for student success information, Starfish allows the campus community to track interactions with students without duplicating efforts. Support staff are able to monitor academic performance as well as access feedback in real time from instructors and others on campus, and use the information to identify and resolve issues early.

During the spring 2010 term, 91 percent of faculty utilized the early alert survey, communicating their concerns about student performance and raising nearly 100 flags each week of the term. Flags include academic, social, financial and even health-related concerns. In addition, Starfish automatically triggered more than 700 warning flags based on individual midterm course grades as reported in the institution’s student information system, PowerCAMPUS®.

“Prior to Starfish, we had an early alert process where instructors would send us their feedback on students. Although a large percentage of faculty would participate, the process was cumbersome and time-intensive,” said Dr. Loralyn Taylor, registrar and director of institutional research at Paul Smith’s College. “Now with Starfish, not only have we increased the level of instructor participation, but we also have made the information available to advisors in real time, without having to spend days tabulating the results. This is a huge advantage to our staff and to our students.”

Accessible with a single login to an institution’s student information system (e.g., SunGard PowerCAMPUS), portal system or learning management system (e.g., Blackboard, WebCT or ANGEL), Starfish is a collection of two software systems. Starfish EARLY ALERT™ is an early warning and student-tracking system that makes it possible for instructors, advisors and academic staff to identify at-risk students in real time. Starfish CONNECT™, an education support networking system, helps students access a personalized contact list of instructors, advisors and counselors who are dedicated to helping them succeed. Together the systems generate valuable performance and resource utilization data for the institution, which helps optimize future service offerings.

“Starfish Retention Solutions supports Paul Smith’s College’s efforts to make their students successful,” said David Yaskin, CEO and founder of Starfish Retention Solutions. “We share the institution’s perspective that anytime you can increase the level of student engagement with support services, you are helping a student overcome the challenges inherent in college life and ultimately receive a degree.”

About Starfish Retention Solutions
Starfish Retention Solutions is a leading provider of student success systems. The company offers a collection of software solutions that harness the power of the campus community in order to engage, motivate and graduate more students – securing valuable tuition revenue through student retention. Specifically, the solutions help institutions identify at-risk students in real time, based on their daily coursework performance, 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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