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Proactively Reaching Out To Learners Is A New Frontier In Student Support

“Tutoring services,” Inside Higher Ed notes, “only help when students actually use them.”

That was the beginning of an article about Moorpark College, a California Community College that has been experimenting with ways to get more students to use the tutoring services they offer. 

What if, Moorpark asked, instead of having students reach out to us for tutoring, we have our tutors reach out to them? 

So they set up a system in which tutors could text students directly. Tutors would proactively contact students who were on academic probation or experiencing difficulties in certain classes.

The results were “a breakthrough.” There was a 761% increase in tutor visits for the participating classes. Those visits made a difference: The passing rates in participating math classes increased by almost 11% (with the biggest increase among Hispanic students), and passing rates in English classes increased by over 16%.

The message is clear: If colleges want students to succeed, they shouldn’t wait for struggling students to reach out for help. They should reach out to struggling students.

Calbright is a leader in using that approach to support adult learners in an online setting, while also pioneering new innovations for online learning. And it’s garnered significant results. We’re proud to stand with our sister community colleges in changing the way colleges support students.

Proactive Support Makes A Huge Difference

In 2021, Calbright entered into a research partnership with UC Irvine and non-profit researcher Ideas42 to find ways to improve student engagement and outcomes across the online college experience, from admissions to graduation. Over and over again, we’ve seen that finding new ways to reach out to students works. This is true in traditional educational settings like Moorpark, and it’s especially true in unconventional online settings like Calbright.

Calbright’s persistence rates are significantly higher than most colleges, hovering around 95%. One of the reasons is that we find ways to keep online college from being isolating. Because we’re able to track student progress through their courses in real time, we are able to reach out to students quickly when something starts to go wrong but before there’s a crisis. “We can even reach out when we know there’s a challenge up ahead for them, like a difficult competency or assessment,” said Don Orth, Calbright’s VP of Student Services and Success. “That can have a big impact.”

We can take that even further, though: By developing a clear set of expectations with every student about what they want their progress to be like, we can set individual “timelines” for every student. If they need to go slowly, no problem – if they want to push themselves through the course, that’s great. But when they start to miss their own deadlines and goals, we know to reach out, check in, and see what we can do to help. It makes a difference on top of a difference. In the pilot program, students who worked out a timeline with their support team had completed 40% of their program, while the control group had completed less than 25% in the same period.

Reaching Students Where They Are Works

Calbright has been using texting to reach out to students for years, but we keep learning that the more ways we find to reach out to students, the better the results.

In another experiment, adding short videos—less than 60 seconds each—to different parts of the student journey had a small but significant improvement in student outcomes. Adding targeted videos explaining college processes, led to:

  • 4-6% more prospective students finishing their enrollment
  • 5% more students scheduling an appointment with their academic success counselor
  • 57% more students visiting Calbright’s Career Services page

Students want to succeed in college. Making the resources we have more accessible, and doing it proactively, offers many students the support they need. Increasingly, we have the data to prove it.

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