South Dakota Board of Regents Aims to Improve Student Retention at Six State Institutions With Starfish Retention Solutions

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Enterprise student success and retention software platform enables a systemwide approach to identifying at-risk students and providing support services

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From our evaluation, Starfish provides the most robust set of data integration points available in an early alert program.

Starfish Retention Solutions, Inc., a leading provider of enterprise student success systems, announced that the South Dakota Board of Regents has adopted the Starfish® system to advance the state’s efforts to improve graduation and persistence rates at all six of its higher education institutions. The individual institutions are Black Hills State University, Dakota State University, Northern State University, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, South Dakota State University, and University of South Dakota. The Starfish system is scheduled to launch in August 2012.

For a number of years, student retention has continued to be a critical issue for postsecondary institutions nationwide. In response, each institution within the SDBOR has worked to introduce a variety of programs that range from homegrown early alert systems to faculty reporting mechanisms and enhanced student services.

In the 2010-11 academic year, the SDBOR set out to create a systemwide early alert strategy through which the individual campuses could benefit from their combined economies of scale while also introducing enhanced functionality and data intelligence capabilities. Specifically, a committee of student and academic affairs representatives sought an early alert system that could integrate information from three primary data sources: student historical data from the existing Student Information System (e.g., Datatel), real-time feedback from faculty and staff members, and student progress and performance based on data in the Learning Management System (e.g., Desire2Learn).

In addition, given the large number of students who take courses at more than one campus, including a growing online student population, the committee was concerned with finding an early alert system that could meet the SDBOR’s transferability requirements by unifying early alert data across institutions to provide a single view of student performance.

“While the institutions have worked on their respective efforts to improve student retention, the system office was in the position to articulate why student retention is so important and to develop a model that enables us to collaborate on a comprehensive, efficient, and affordable approach,” said Paul Turman, Ph.D., vice president for research and economic development for the SDBOR. During the planning and evaluation period, Dr. Turman served as the associate vice president for academic affairs. “We knew that each institution was looking to do something. Our focus was on finding a way for us to work together to achieve as many goals as possible.”

After reviewing solutions from 12 companies, the committee selected Starfish because of its enterprise architecture that allows for intelligent integration with a number of existing data sources on the various campuses, including the Desire2Learn system. “From our evaluation, Starfish provides the most robust set of data integration points available in an early alert program. While the Starfish system makes it easy for faculty to provide feedback on student performance, the software also deeply integrates with our LMS and SIS, as well as other data sources including Noel-Levitz survey data and soon, MyMathLabs. By incorporating these additional data points into our early alert process, we can see in a more comprehensive way which students are struggling and need our help,” said Dr. Turman.

Starfish provides highly integrated software solutions that work across academic and student affairs departments to holistically support the success and retention of students. Specifically, the company offers two software systems that work together to reinforce the efforts of academic advisors as they help students overcome challenges. 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 networking and case-management 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.

“As early alert systems become more sophisticated and powerful, it is critical for higher education systems — at both the four-year and community college levels — to evaluate the role technology can play in helping to improve student retention and persistence rates,” said David Yaskin, CEO of Starfish Retention Solutions. “Starfish is excited to have the opportunity to work with all the institutions within the SDBOR as they take a leadership role in ensuring that more South Dakota students achieve their personal and academic goals.”    

Webinar Invitation
Paul Turman, Ph.D., of the South Dakota Board of Regents, will lead a webinar presentation on the system’s process for procuring enterprise early alert software, including unifying institution-specific requirements, setting expectations, and evaluating software/vendor options. Learn the key factors that influenced the final decision and how the SDBOR negotiated a mutually beneficial vendor agreement. The complimentary webinar will be held on Aug. 1, 2012, at 2 p.m. ET.

To register, go to

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 course work 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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