Youngstown State University Adopts the Starfish System to Support Campus Initiative to Improve Graduation and Completion Rates

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Institution Responds to Changes in State Funding Model Which Places Greater Emphasis on Performance-Based Metrics

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We also really liked that the Starfish system is built around providing students with a dedicated, personalized support network.

Starfish Retention Solutions, Inc., a leading provider of student success systems, today announced that Youngstown State University has expanded its adoption of the Starfish® system to support its efforts to improve graduation and course completion rates in response to the state of Ohio changing its funding model to include these additional metrics.

YSU is a public, four-year, open access university serving nearly 14,000 students annually in more than 135 undergraduate and graduate programs. Prior to 2010, the state of Ohio’s higher education funding model relied on challenge grants, which rewarded institutions with additional funding if they met various enrollment and completion objectives. According to the Center for American Progress, this model was accelerated in 2012 with the state allocating 5 percent of its total higher education funding for performance, an amount that is expected to rise to 30 percent by 2015.

In response, YSU has identified a number of focus areas aimed at helping the institution improve graduation and course completion rates. Although YSU attracts bright students and provides a number of highly competitive programs, many students encounter challenges in achieving their goals. Ninety percent of the students are commuters, 56 percent are first-generation, and 88 percent receive financial aid. Industry research indicates that these three student populations are typically at a higher risk of not achieving academic goals.

“Because a lot of our students are first-generation, they are often unaware of the academic and financial impact of stopping classes or simply not attending,” said Jonelle Beatrice, interim executive director of student life and director of the Center for Student Progress at YSU. “Our focus has been to change the campus culture from one where students were used to withdrawing or stopping out to one where students are informed of the impact of their actions early enough so they can make better decisions.”

YSU has a history of using a homegrown early alert system to collect feedback from faculty about student performance. In a good semester, the institution was able to get reports from 5 percent of faculty. When reports came into the institution’s Center for Student Progress, the system did not allow the information to be shared with advisors or student support staff. Furthermore, faculty who raised the concerns had no way of following up with the students or with the staff members.

To better enable faculty, staff, and advisors to communicate with each other, YSU evaluated commercially available early alert systems. In 2011, YSU selected Starfish EARLY ALERT™ to enable faculty to flag students who were falling behind and then route those concerns to the students’ peer mentors as well as to the student support staff in the Center for Student Progress. The Starfish system was selected because of its usability, ease of implementation, and integration capabilities with other campus IT systems, including the Banner by Ellucian student information system and the Blackboard learning management system.

“In our reviews of the various early alert systems, we wanted a system that could be proactive for all students, not just those considered to be at risk. It also had to be easy for faculty to use. Because the Starfish system directly connects to our Banner and Blackboard systems, we have essentially put our student success system in the hands of our faculty members,” said Beatrice. “We also really liked that the Starfish system is built around providing students with a dedicated, personalized support network. This is consistent with [YSU’s] model of tagging students and getting them into appropriate student services quickly.”

In addition, YSU wanted a solution that was faculty-/administration-driven as opposed to student-driven through self-assessments or surveying instruments. “Many of our students do not self-identify. Our internal research over the years indicates that the students who were the most academically at risk did not use our support services. Only 2 percent did any kind of outreach to us. It became apparent that we had to do the outreach to them,” said Beatrice.

The combination of enhanced automation through the Starfish system with a comprehensive effort to have peer mentors reach out to every first-year student and have academic coaches reach out to at-risk second-year students may have a part to play in early improvements for the institution.

Faculty participation in the program has increased from an average of 2 percent to 34 percent. The cumulative GPA for freshmen in fall semester 2011 was 2.39; in fall semester 2012, it increased to 2.46. In addition, the percentage of credit hours earned out of attempted hours was 76 percent in 2011 and it increased to 81 percent for the fall of 2012. In 2012, the analysis also showed that many classes that used the Starfish system had higher completion rates than those that did not use the system. For example, the completion rate for one section of a psychology course that did not use the Starfish system was 58.5 percent as compared to 63.7 percent for a section that did use the system.

Accessible with a single login from an institution’s student information system, portal system, or learning management system (e.g., Blackboard, WebCT, ANGEL, Moodle, Desire2Learn, Canvas, eCollege), 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. The system includes advanced early warning analytics agents that process student success information, including instructor perception data, student self-assessment data, learning management system data, and student information system data. Starfish CONNECT™, an education support networking and case management system, helps students access a personalized contact list of instructors, advisors, tutors, and counselors who are dedicated to helping them succeed. The system also provides informative academic plans to help keep students on track. Together the systems generate valuable performance and resource utilization data for the institution, which helps optimize future service offerings.

“State funding models across the country are quickly evolving to include completion or performance metrics,” said David Yaskin, CEO of Starfish. “Starfish Retention Solutions is proud to be working with Youngstown State University to address its priorities of improving graduation and completion rates and ultimately improving the chances for its students to be academically successful.”

Webinar Invitation. Jonelle Beatrice, interim executive director of student life and director of the Center for Student Progress, will be hosting a complimentary Webinar presentation on Wednesday, June 19, 2013, at 2 p.m. ET. The presentation will include an overview of the program, including lessons learned and best practices that can be used by other institutions that are working to improve graduation and course completion rates. To register, click

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 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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