Paul Smith’s College Calculates a Four-and-a-half-fold Return on Investment Within 18 Months of Starfish® Adoption

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Student Success Outcomes Improve as a Result of Real-Time, Cross-Campus Information Exchange

With the deep adoption of the Starfish system and real-time sharing of information across campus, we have already seen a four-and-a-half-fold return on our investment in the technology and related program costs, including personnel.

Starfish Retention Solutions, Inc., a leading provider of student success systems, announced today that Paul Smith’s College has calculated a four-and-a-half-fold return on its investment within 18 months of adopting the company’s software solutions. The institution has deployed the Starfish system to power a comprehensive student support initiative focused on providing a highly coordinated response to student needs through enhanced cross-campus communication.

Paul Smith’s College is a private institution enrolling approximately 1,000 students. The college has been working for a number of years to increase its retention rates. Frustratingly, retention rates for both the freshmen-to-sophomore and the sophomore-to-junior cohorts had stagnated with a five-year average of 62 percent. In 2009, the institution responded by launching a new student support program, powered by the Starfish system, that takes a more holistic approach to student success rather than concentrating on those students with classic at-risk characteristics at admission.

The college’s efforts are paying off. Since the launch of the program, Paul Smith’s has reported gains in year-to-year student retention, with the largest gains as a result of programs helping students persist from their sophomore to junior year; the 2010 cohort had a 12 percent increase in retention over the previous five-year average. Consequently, the college has seen retention-related increases in net student-derived revenue of more than $540,000.    

“Student success is our top priority at Paul Smith’s College. That said, as financial stewards, we have to know that the investments we make to help students succeed are going to pay off and help fund the institution’s priorities,” said John Burke, vice president for business and finance for Paul Smith’s College. “With the deep adoption of the Starfish system and real-time sharing of information across campus, we have already seen a four-and-a-half-fold return on our investment in the technology and related program costs, including personnel. At the same time, the campus services that are empowered by the Starfish system are noticeably more efficient and better-prepared to help our students.”

Student retention is often the result of a number of factors, including student services, personnel, academic standards and technology. To gauge the direct value of the Starfish system, Paul Smith’s looked at a variety of student success indicators, including:

  • Fewer Suspensions Due to Poor Academic Standing. At Paul Smith’s, underperforming students are entered into an Academic Recovery Program where they meet with a mentor on a weekly basis. Mentors now use Starfish to track the students’ activities and progress. For example, a mentor can now see notes entered into the system by other service providers on campus and be sure that the student attended the agreed-upon tutoring session. As a result of the enhanced flow of information, Paul Smith’s documented a 30 percent reduction in the number of Academic Recovery students suspended at the end of fall 2010 as compared to fall 2009. This had a direct impact on the institution’s bottom line, since more students were academically eligible to return to the school the following term.
  • Fewer Students With a D or F at Mid-term in the Fall Semester. The Starfish system makes it efficient for faculty to raise flags within the first weeks of the term about students who are underperforming. Flagged students are then proactively offered support services while the issue is still addressable. For the last two academic terms, nearly 98 percent of faculty have used the Starfish system to report a concern about a student. As a result, the number of students who had a mid-term grade of D or F dropped by six percent between fall 2009 and fall 2010, and the number of B grades increased by five percent.
  • More Students Ending the Semester in Good Standing. The Starfish system enables institutions to provide service to all students, not just those considered to be at risk based on admissions data and demographics. Specifically, students use Starfish to conveniently schedule appointments with on-campus services, including tutoring. As a result, the number of students who ended the semester at Paul Smith’s in good standing increased by four percent between fall 2009 and fall 2010.

“By focusing on the success of all students rather than just retention of students normally considered to be at risk based on their high school performance, we are committed to ensuring that all Paul Smith’s students have a chance to achieve their academic goals,” said Dr. Loralyn Taylor, director of institutional research and registrar at Paul Smith’s College. “Starfish helps us automate information flow and communication management across the institution to make our student success initiatives possible. We are energized to see positive indications that our efforts are making a difference.”

Accessible with a single login from an institution’s student information system, portal system and course management system (e.g., Blackboard, WebCT, ANGEL, Moodle), 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 schedule time online to meet with 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 is motivated by the results that Paul Smith’s College has experienced over the 18 months of using our software system,” said David Yaskin, CEO and founder of Starfish Retention Solutions. “Our job is to make the technology seamless, supportive and effortless so that the people on the front lines can do as much as they can to help students achieve their goals, while helping the institution meets its goals.”

Webinar Invitation. Dr. Taylor of Paul Smith’s College will lead a Webinar presentation on the initiatives and outcomes associated with the institution’s student success efforts. The complimentary Webinar will be held on Tuesday, April 5, 2011 at 1 pm 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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