Student Success Insights Blog

The path to more efficient, effective advising: A Q&A with the University of Texas Brownsville

About the Guest Blog Series

In 2014, we launched our Student Success Insights blog to share insights and best practices with you on a more frequent, informal basis. We continue to hear that you want more opportunities to communicate and collaborate with one another. So, to kick off 2015, we’re introducing a series of guest blog posts that will serve as a forum for you to hear first-hand from other members.

Selma Yznaga For our first guest post, we interviewed Selma Yznaga (pictured on the right), Director of Advising at the University of Texas Brownsville (UTB).

Despite facing recent budget cuts, the dissolution of a long-standing partnership, and a pending merger and consolidation, UTB has managed to successfully restructure its advising program to be more efficient and effective in the way it serves students.

Continue reading to see her responses to the following questions:

1. Can you tell me about UTB's decision to restructure its advising office?
2. How has technology helped UTB be more efficient and effective?
3. What have you learned about launching targeted advising campaigns with SSC?
4. How has the student experience changed at UTB as a result?
5. In addition to SSC, what other technology investments have you made at UTB?
6. What impact have you seen as a result of the changes within advising?
7. How has the advising staff reacted to these changes?
8. What’s next for UTB?

1. Can you tell me about UTB's decision to restructure its advising office?

Recently we disbanded our 25-year partnership with Texas Southmost Community College. This has meant many changes for us: a transition from 13,000 to 8,000 students; the move to a campus one-third the size of our former campus; and significant cuts in budgets, staff, and faculty.

Each department was asked to improve the quality of service, even as our resources were drastically reduced. This meant we had to clarify our role and discontinue services that weren't essential to it, like registration and schedule planning.

For advising, it was the best thing that could have happened. With fewer advisors, we all have to be really efficient; technology has played a major part in helping us be not only more efficient, but also more effective.

2. How has technology helped UTB be more efficient and effective?

SSC has been a central feature of our redesign. Because we lost staff, we couldn’t afford to provide mandatory advising to everyone as we’d been doing previously. But we didn’t want any students to fall through the cracks, either. Technology has allowed us to be proactive and find pockets of at-risk students.

SSC gives us a way to filter students so that we can identify exactly the right candidates for each targeted advising campaign. The platform also gives advisors a 360-degree view of students on one screen, as opposed to having to use several different programs and screens to access the same information.

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3. What lessons have you learned about launching targeted advising campaigns using SSC? What are the keys to a successful campaign?

We’ve learned to work with smaller groups and personalize communication to ensure that our contact with them is intimate rather than generic. Our first proactive outreach efforts targeted large groups (e.g. all students on academic probation). However, we know now (thanks in great part to our EAB dedicated consultant) that there are pockets of students more likely to respond positively to our interventions. Working with these targeted groups lets us track students more closely, results more frequently in the desired student outcome, and ensures a better, more personal experience for the student.

  • How to build your own targeted advising campaign

    Our toolkit offers step-by-step instructions and worksheets to help users of the SSC platform design their own targeted advising campaign. Learn more.

4. How has the student experience changed at UTB as a result of the new targeted and proactive approach?

Students' impression of advising services prior to the redesign was that we provided fairly quick, transactional assistance. We used to give them what they asked for and send them on their way.

Now, we take advantage of every opportunity with students and are more proactive in our interactions with them. We used to have “repeat business” from students who came in to ask one question at a time; now we give them all of the pertinent information in one session. I have found this has decreased the ubiquitous “nobody told me” from students, and it has also freed us up to serve more of them.

5. In addition to SSC, what other technology investments have you made at UTB?

We adopted a lobby management system due to cuts in our front desk staff. The software we chose included a reporting tool, and the data revealed discrepancies in the number of students each advisor serves. This spurred further investigation, which illuminated the different approach we each were taking to advising. With data-driven productivity reporting, we were able to see who was pulling their weight and who needed a little extra training in efficiency. We now see more students each day because we’ve standardized appointment times.

6. What impact have you seen at UTB as a result of the structural and technological changes within advising?

Our data-informed approach and outreach campaigns have given us a campus-wide visibility we lacked before. Everyone seems to better understand how involved we are in student success. Our quality and effectiveness standards and constant evaluation mean that students get the service they deserve, so we see only a fraction of the complaints we did previously. Although advising is only mandatory for freshmen and students on academic probation, undergraduates from all classifications, majors, and performance levels now seek us out.

Also, I believe the level of respect for academic advisors has increased. This is my observation based on the number of faculty that stop by to ask questions and get information about their program’s risk level and their willingness to collaborate with us. We can run collaborative campaigns with faculty given the critical courses they teach, and they can now see which of the students in their programs are at risk. Low-enrollment and low-performing programs have been cut much more readily in our post-partnership world, so working together to keep our students on track benefits everyone.

7. How has the advising staff reacted to these changes?

We’re working harder than ever and hold ourselves to higher standards. We’re proud of the quality of our work and evaluate ourselves with a much keener eye. Overall, based on a survey we conducted, 100% of our advisors either agree or strongly agree that the technology and structural changes that have taken place have enabled them to better meet student advising needs.

8. What’s next for UTB?

What’s next? We’re going to start all over again! UTB is about to merge with UT-Pan American to form a new and consolidated institution. When we open our doors in Fall 2015, we will do so as the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, the second largest Hispanic-serving institution in the nation. We’ll have three main campuses: Edinburg (formerly UT-Pan American), Brownsville, and a medical school (slated for Harlingen, which is between Brownsville and Edinburg). We expect an increase in funding and resources, and we’ll have to develop a single model that works for all of the campuses. We have a whole new advising center to develop, and I wouldn’t want to do it without EAB’s guidance and support.

How Other Institutions are Using SSC

Purdue University Calumet partnered with SSC to integrate data into decision-making processes at both the individual advisor level and institution-wide—leading to a 4.7% increase in first-time, full-time student retention.

read the case study

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