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Monday, December 22, 2014

UNM to implement new software to allow advisers to directly monitor students’ grades

news@dailylobo.com

New software will allow advisers to directly monitor students’ grades.

UNM advisement staff will get a helping hand from Starfish Retention Solutions, a case management system for advisers to track students and help them continue on to graduation.

Director of University Advisement Vanessa Harris said Starfish is a retention tool rather than an advisement tool.

“We didn’t purchase this tool to replace advisement,” she said.
“Starfish aims to help advisers track students and their progression, because students may not always want to admit they’re doing poorly, and there is currently no way of finding out if they are,” Harris said.

“Data will be automatically fed from (Blackboard) into Starfish and faculty will be able to send referrals and kudos to students,” she said.

With Starfish, students can also schedule advisement appointments, and it should be easier to see which adviser is theirs.

Starfish also features an early alert system with which advisers can gather information from faculty members about how students are faring throughout the semester.

For example, if a student is on probation, Harris said, that student will have instant access to a probation plan set in place by advisement to ensure the student follows the steps to get back on track.

Starfish integrates with all UNM systems, such as WebCT and its replacement UNM Learn, making it easier to provide and follow student progression. This was one of the primary reasons the University chose the software, Harris said.

Some students, such as communications and journalism major Meghan Mulryan, have mixed feelings about whether they feel this system is an invasion of privacy.

“I respect UNM’s efforts to try and get students a little more involved,” she said, “but I think that this is college and I feel like that’s a little bit high school and we need to be responsible for our own grades and our own future.”

Others feel as though this initiative can benefit their college experience.

“I think if they offer (help), that would be a lot better than trying to find it,” UNM student Alberto Griego said.

Harris said that in the last year and a half, a UNM committee has investigated and tested every retention tool on the market and reference checked other institutions that use Starfish, which all deemed the software successful.

According to SRS’s website, more than 175 universities nationwide use Starfish as their retention management tool, including nearby universities such as Northern Arizona University, University of Texas at El Paso and Texas A&M.

Harris said the initiative will cost “less than $100,000 for the University as a whole” but she would not disclose the exact cost of the project to the Daily Lobo, nor disclose the names of others who would know the cost.

However, a public records request and subsequent response from UNM Chief Procurement Officer Bruce Cherrin showed the actual cost of implementing Starfish to be $175,000. In an email Harris said that this figure covers the cost of three years of using the software, whereas the “less than $100,000” she cited in the previous interview was for one year.

The tool will be required for all departments to use.
Advisement Center Trainer Shannon Saavedra said the center will offer online and face-to-face training to help advisers better understand Starfish.

“We are still in the planning and pre-implementation phases,” she said, and the center “is still working on how this will impact advisers.”

Harris said she will invite a sampling of students to test the software in April, though University Advisement is still in the process of determining what this training entails and how it will select students. She said the system is easy for students to grasp and understand.

The goal is to train students at every new-student orientation or through other training sessions held throughout the summer.

Starfish training for incoming freshmen begins at orientation this May, and there will be a “tremendous amount of training for the staff,” Harris said.

Harris is working on a landing page for advisement that is slated for completion next week. The site will include information on Starfish, as well as contact information for questions.