Article by Jackie Cornog (Interim Dean of Students) and Sally Heckel (Assistant Director of Student Success).
“I see you missed classes last Wednesday. Are you okay?
This is a question that can be heard in the hallways of Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology from members of our Success Team.
Each Friday, Success Coaches along with deans from the college’s Enrollment, Academic, and Student Affairs departments meet to review student attendance and grades at their weekly Students of Concern (SOC) meetings. Early alert messages are also sent between instructors and advisors in an effort to communicate any problems a student may be having. These alerts help us learn about some of the challenges our students face outside school. Through this constant communication, we can create plans to support them and get them back on track.
BFIT's success team hard at work.
Our data shows that there is a direct correlation between students’ attendance and their retention and GPA. We have found that BFIT students with GPA’s of 3.0 and above typically maintain an attendance rate of 90% or higher. But sometimes unforeseen circumstances can derail a student's plans to come to classes or even remain enrolled at the college.
The Success Team looks at student attendance in several ways, including both weekly and cumulative attendance overall, as well as attendance for each course. Once a student is determined to be at risk, the team shares what knowledge and experience they have with that student. At least one of the team members is usually aware of the student’s personal situation and recommends an appropriate action plan.
The team also performs immediate outreach through several of our tailored software systems: a flag is raised through the Starfish system to alert advisors; an email is sent to the student through our student portal, or a text message is sent to the student through Signal Vine; instructors or other staff members who are known to have strong connections with the student are enlisted to help. Team members have also been known to step out of these meetings to catch a student of concern passing by in the lobby.
Jackie Cornog leads a Students of Concern meeting.
While the percent of the college’s attendance rate averages in the mid 80s, we are always striving to improve college-wide attendance.
Recently, we have instituted an “Attend to Win” incentive program. At the end of each weekly SOC meeting, students with perfect attendance from the past week are entered into a pool to win a $10 gift card to Billy’s, a local restaurant and friend of BFIT. At the end of each month, students with perfect attendance during that month are entered into a pool to win a monthly MBTA pass. And, at the end of the semester, students with at least a 97% attendance rate are eligible to win a Kindle Fire. The winners are announced to the BFIT community and receive their prizes directly from one of the Success Team members during one of their classes. Through these efforts, we celebrate student success and increase awareness of the importance of attendance.
Success coaches offer support and provide individualized plans to address personal issues. They also train and oversee advisors — roles held by faculty and staff members. The goal for advisors is to meet with advisees at least three times in a semester, but we have found many students benefit from meeting much more frequently. Much of the student population graduated from BPS high schools and are the first in their families to go to college. Financial Aid, or working out how to pay for college, is also lost on a lot of our students, so our financial advisors work with them when they’re struggling to pay a bill and figure out a payment plan.
Students and professors working in the Academic Success Center.
Here at BFIT, we are committed to being this involved in our students’ lives. And we all come from a genuine place of caring. Because we personally meet with our students so many times, they know we have their best interest at heart. The attention they get from us helps them rise to the challenge and want to succeed. We equip our students with the tools necessary to become self-reliant, responsible, and economically productive citizens.
So what is the response of a student who is stopped in the hall by one of the Success Team members and others who receive similar outreach? Almost always positive. Students say that our outreach shows a level of caring from the staff and faculty at BFIT and underscores the importance of their presence in our classes and in our community.