A key component of NIU’s commitment to student success is ensuring that students get the help they need when they need it. Doing so got a little easier this semester when the university began using its Navigate software platform to facilitate and manage referrals for tutoring and other support services.
“Navigate is a collaborative platform that links faculty, staff and students in a coordinated effort to encourage student success,” said Brian Berchtold, who coordinates the Navigate program for the Office of the Vice Provost.
Since its launch about five years ago, the platform has become a one-stop-shop where instructors and staff can find holistic academic data that can be used to track the progress of individual students or to measure the performance of just about any sub-group of students imaginable.
The system took a leap forward this fall with the activation of tools that empower academic counselors to directly refer students for assistance and then track student follow up.
“In the past, you would give a student information on tutoring, and they would stick it in their backpack. You never knew if they followed through,” said Tracy Ash, associate director of academic programming for the CHANCE Program. “Now, with the click of a button we can refer them to tutoring, and within a day or so they get a phone call or email from someone offering help, and we can track their follow through.”
That last aspect, the personalized follow up, has been extremely important, Ash said. “Telling a student that there is tutoring available is good. However, it is much more powerful when the tutoring center reaches out to say, ‘We hear that you need help.’ When that happens, a student is not only more likely to pursue the help they need, they also see that we are truly committed to helping them succeed.”
Counselors can also refer students to services like the Writing Center, the Math Assistance Center, or to seminars offered by the ACCESS Tutoring and Support Center on topics like time management and study skills. Students may also be referred to a cultural center, where they can find mentoring, or to Student Affairs, where they might be directed for things like personal issues, food assistance, or help with housing.
Because all of that information is now tracked in Navigate, everyone working with a student – from an instructor to the tutoring center – can see at a glance not only how a student is performing in the classroom, but also the support network that he or she has available. As a result, counselors can more effectively advise students and keep them on track toward graduation.
“It provides a much more holistic view of a student’s experience and helps all those who are supporting them to work in concert,” Berchtold said. “It also allows us to examine how effective various interventions are and to make adjustments as needed.”
The new referral process proved very popular. Previously, about 900 students a semester might have been referred for assistance. This semester, more than 3,000 alerts were raised by instructors and 2,500 cases were closed with either a successful referral or, at the very least, confirmation of multiple attempts to reach out to a student.
Some of the increase was due to the unusual circumstances created by the pandemic, but much of it was simply due to advisors being able to more quickly identify student needs and direct them to support. “The right students were being flagged and pointed to the right professionals at a higher rate than ever before,” Berchtold said.
That increase in volume put stress on support units, but they rose to the challenge.
“We are incredibly proud of the effort that instructional staff put into providing alerts and grateful for the level of commitment that advisors and academic support staff have shown to helping students succeed. It has been amazing,” he said. “Even with the kinks that come with introducing something like this, the level of assistance I have seen go to students is almost mind-blowing. Our entire office is Impressed by and proud of all of the professionals involved in this process.”
Going forward, the goal will be to more equitably distribute the workload, perhaps directing more students to assistance available within their program or major that might be able to provide more targeted support. Another goal is to add more support services, such as Career Counseling, to the system, which many users of Navigate are eagerly anticipating.
“As more departments and services start using Navigate the way we do the connections will really be enhanced and we will have an even more complete picture of a student’s experience than ever before,” said Colleen Barker, a program advisor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.