It’s never been easier for students to make an appointment with an advisor, get their questions answered around the clock and track the classes needed to graduate — all thanks to a slate of recent campus initiatives that tap technology.
The Division of Academic Affairs and the Division of Information Technology & Institutional Planning have teamed up on a new system for advising and tutoring, an artificial intelligence text messaging robot to field questions, and a guided registration system that ensures that students struggling academically with math or English get enrolled in the right courses at the start. Also in the works is the implementation of a smart guidance system students can use to map out the courses they need to take from when they enter as freshmen to graduation.
Other projects designed to improve the student experience and make processes more seamless include increasing Wi-Fi across campus and providing Zoom video conferencing for students to use for class projects and meetings. The university also is using dashboards to gather data to identify bottleneck courses and determine early whether students need intervention or additional services.
“This collaboration with IT has been absolutely transformational,” said Terri Gomez, associate vice president for student success. “It’s a cross divisional effort to be a student-ready campus. These efforts are fundamental to better serving students.”
Earlier this year, the Office of Student Success launched CPP Connect, an academic advising and tutoring tool powered by the EAB Navigate platform that speaks to Cal Poly Pomona’s holistic approach to helping students.
CPP Connect identifies students who may need additional assistance financially, academically or personally and alerts advisors and administrators to intervene early, Gomez said.
With the introduction of this tool, 40 percent of the undergraduate student population made an appointment with a staff advisor during spring 2019. Around 8 percent opted to get tutoring they were connected with through use of the platform.
Cecilia Santiago-Gonzalez, director of strategic initiatives for student success, said the aspect of CPP Connect that allows advisors to input notes from contacts with students also is key.
“It’s a continuum of service,” she said. “That’s been very powerful, to see the progression. It’s almost like a case management tool.”
The university also is using Tableau-based dashboards to track and analyze graduation and persistence rates, MyPlanner usage and other data points.
“The dashboards are critical,” Gomez said. “They provide us with the data to make better decisions, and we can see the impact of those decisions. We can use them to scale or revise.”
The IT department also has worked with Academic Affairs to move several key forms – change of major, grade appeal, retroactive withdrawal – online so that students no longer have to go to several offices to get needed signatures and the progress of submitting and approving those forms can be tracked.
“We are trying to streamline the administrative process for students,” said Ben Quillian III, deputy chief informational officer.
In an effort to communicate with students in a way they connect to, Billy Chat was launched in the fall.
The Office of Student Success worked with campus partners to come up with questions and answers for the artificial intelligence text messaging robot on a variety of topics, from financial aid to registration to co-curricular activities. Billy Chat is accessible 24/7 to incoming freshmen and transfer students through a smartphone messaging app but will be expanded in future academic years.
The university has explored other opportunities for text messaging. The Office of Student Success sent out a fee payment reminder via text through Blackboard Connect The office also conducted a digital survey through email on text messaging to get feedback. Prior to text messaging, around 2,000 students per term would get their classes dropped for nonpayment of fees even though they were sent multiple emails. With text messaging, the university was able to decrease the number of students whose classes were dropped by 70 percent, she said.
The university plans to explore other areas in which texting can be used and it recently conducted a student survey related to it.
“We really try to incorporate the student voice,” Santiago-Gonzalez said.
Also implemented in fall 2019 was guided enrollment, a modification to the registration system that ensures that students who need additional support in math or English register for needed classes in those subjects first.
The Chancellor’s Office Executive Order 1100 requires that freshmen complete their general education math and English classes in the first year. The CSU uses GPA, test scores and other factors to place students in a category between I and IV, category I indicating that they have met their requirements. Students in category III or IV for English and/or math, must register from the required classes in those subjects before they can sign up for anything else, said Jessica Wagoner, senior associate vice president for enrollment management.
The initiative also prohibits students from dropping the mandated classes.
“Last year, we struggled to ensure students were enrolled in the math and writing courses they needed, or they would drop their required classes,” Wagoner said. “This mod has been very helpful. It’s great because it guides them get into the classes they are required to take in order to complete their GE math and writing requirement within their first year of enrollment.”
The university also plans to implement Smart Guidance, a new academic planner that runs on the same platform as CPP Connect. Students will be able to use the planner to register for classes by cell phone and will receive a mobile alert if there are holds place on their accounts.
“It provides students with degree roadmaps and displays their course requirements.,” Wagoner said. “They can set their schedule all the way through graduation.”
The campus plans a soft launch of the planner in spring, with a goal to have it up and running for all students in 2020, she said.