Building a Data-Centered Campus to
Tell the Story of Student Affairs
“Assessment isn’t just us asking students ‘are you satisfied here?’ — We want to know if you’re actually getting something out of your experience. We want to know if you’re learning something.”
Prior to beginning their journey with Presence, Lynn University relied on familiar methods of tracking student involvement: Spreadsheets and guesstimates. While smaller events were easy to get headcounts at, larger events posed a problem.
Theresa Gallo, Associate Dean of Students, remembers that “One time, after the Involvement Fair, my supervisor looked at the ‘data’ we had in this spreadsheet and said ‘Were there really 400 students?’ and I couldn’t say for sure. There were a lot of students, but how many were there really?”
That’s a familiar problem on college campuses across the world. But Lynn University knew that guesstimates in spreadsheets weren’t an effective way to gather information and generate reports. Theresa notes, “It got to the point where I had to say ‘I can’t give you more money without good data. And that was that.”
Lynn University prides itself on being an early adopter of a variety of tools, frameworks, and solutions. That’s why Theresa notes that they “always knew the solution would be found in technology. The bigger question was which tools.”
At first, Theresa reached out to a colleague at another institution who worked in IT to ask what it would take for Lynn to build their own tech solution. But after it became clear that a self-built system wouldn’t be sufficient, they turned their search outwards. “Folks at Presence had been reaching out to us, and my staff was following up. One day, they came to me and said ‘This is it. This is going to solve it all.”
Lynn University was an early adopter of Presence — they were the third school to begin using the platform.
“I’ve been with Presence throughout your whole journey. At first, there were growing pains, but now, it’s amazing. I love being with a company that really responds to our needs, both product and support. I can feel how much you actually care about our success.” Theresa Gallo
When Lynn University set out on this journey, they were seeking a software solution that would help them better understand student engagement so that they could more effectively allocate funds. And they’ve had such success with the data that they’ve gathered that other offices are starting to take notice.
While that started solely in the Student Involvement office has spread to other offices across campus. Theresa shared that Lynn’s “International Students office and Athletics office wanted to know more. So now they’re using Presence as well.” In fact, the office of Institutional Research has even reached out to Theresa to include more detailed student involvement data in their common data set.
That campus-wide buy-in is critical, because “As we get more offices on-board, we’ll be able to understand the holistic student experience more thoroughly.”
One key area that Lynn University wanted to understand more was retention. Specifically, they wanted to understand the connection between involvement and attrition. Were the students who were transferring out involved on campus?
“We pulled this retention report, and we found that nearly 100% of our international students had attended at least one event hosted by the Student Involvement office. But what was shocking was that when we took the list of students who had transferred out of the institution in the first semester, we found that every single one of them had attended zero events.” Theresa Gallo
This finding has been critical to Lynn University’s approach to early intervention and helping students feel supported and connected throughout their first year. When discussing Lynn University’s retention efforts, Theresa notes that “Using Presence data, we are able to reach out to those students who have not attended any programs. We couple that with data from our Academic Success office and work to identify how we might engage with these students.”
Between 2014 and 2015, Lynn University’s 6-year graduation rate increased from 39% to 44.3%.
Moving forward, Lynn University will implement a Sophomore Experience Program to continue providing students with support and understanding not just in their first year, but throughout their college experience. And as Lynn develops their programs, Presence will continue to grow, too. As Theresa notes “I love that Presence is always looking at new ways to grow and to solve problems. It’s exciting to be on this journey together.”
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