In the fall of 2019, six Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) joined Achieving the Dream’s Serving Native American Students with Holistic Student Supports Project (SNASHSS). Through the SNASHSS project, each TCU engages with their individual ATD Holistic Student Support (HSS) coach and the others in the cohort as a community of practice to redefine the way they each understand, design, and deliver services that are critical for the success of every student — and the success of their communities.
Less than two years after they began actively partnering with each other and their respective ATD coaches, the six-institution cohort reconvened to share their progress at ATD’s 2021 Holistic Student Supports Institute. The cohort, comprising Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, White Earth Tribal and Community College, United Tribes Technical College, Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College, Stone Child College, and Iḷisaġvik College, revealed tremendous effort and early signs of remarkable achievement.
Their successes — which are especially impressive given the institutional shift caused by the coronavirus pandemic — generally fall into the six areas outlined below.
Refining the first-year experience
A major goal for several project participants was to strengthen intake and orientation processes so that students are positioned for success on day one. With that objective in mind, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Minnesota redesigned their online orientation, adding checkpoints at the end of each module for students to provide feedback which will be used to inform continuous improvement. Iḷisaġvik College in Alaska now requires students attend its new orientation, which evolved from Google Sheets to an interactive experience that features videos, virtual campus tours, welcoming messages, and other components. This new framework injects fun and interactivity to underscore the message that faculty are ready and willing to help.
Wraparound services provide a similar benefit to students at Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College in North Dakota. Low fall-to-fall rates prompted the implementation of a modified first-year experience. In redesigning its gateway math courses for first-year students, NHSC introduced Carnegie Math and ultimately boosted completion rates by 40 percentage points (from 29 to 69 percent).
Leveraging technology to improve registration and enrollment processes
Many institutions struggle to transition from unreliable, paper-based legacy data systems. That was the case for Stone Child College in Montana, but the switch to a new student information system proved vital. With the new system in place, students can use web-based features like DocuSign and Zoom to apply, register, participate in orientation, and meet with advisors in an entirely online format. Faculty and staff are using tools like Zoom and Teams to track student progress, conduct advising and follow-up sessions. The college can offer classes online and has embraced several learning management tools to improve online learning.
Similarly, United Tribes Technical College has implemented a digitized framework that allows students to apply and register in real time, while providing them with tools to track financial aid.
Lessening the financial burden
Financial aid is a big piece of the puzzle for students making the decision to continue successfully in their pathway to graduation. As part of its commitment to providing career-focused financial guidance, United Tribes Technical College (UTTC) in North Dakota has expanded Pell Grants and its Native American tuition waiver offering so that students who qualify for the waiver can use it year on year as long as they maintain the required GPA.
Since implementing these and other measures, UTTC has seen significant increases in persistence and retention numbers. From fall 2019 to fall 2020, UTTC saw a 10-percent increase in credits completed divided by credits attempted; a 12-percent jump in students who completed college-level math in their first year; and 14 percent more students who completed college-level math and English in their first year. Additionally, second-year KPIs showed an 8-percent increase in fall-to-fall returning student retention.
“It’s really exciting, because we met two of our targets and partially met the graduation rate, which was a lagging indicator,” said UTTC’s director of institutional research, Leah Woodke. “This last year, we met our goal for fall-to-spring persistence for the first time ever, and actually exceeded it.”
Implementing early and more intensive advising
Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College (FDLTCC) is embarking on a paired advising approach that brings together professional advisors and faculty program coordinators to assist students in an integrated and coordinated manner. Advisor and student assignments are also aligned with career pathways. To supplement this team-based, pathways approach to advising, FDLTCC made the choice to purchase, configure, test, and roll out Starfish in 2020. “A lot of work has gone into the implementation, which we chose to rebrand as North Star here on campus based on input from students, faculty, and staff,” said Anita Hanson, dean of student services and Title IX coordinator of FDLTCC. “We sought input from other ATD Network colleges who had implemented Starfish to inform our strategy, planning, and initial rollout efforts. The process was thoughtful and intentional. It’s one of our proudest accomplishments related to our HSS work.”
FDLTCC previously relied on Google Forms and before that, a homegrown, pencil-and-paper academic alert process. The new system allows instructor and staff advising teams to monitor student-level data and proactively identify those who are struggling before they stop out or drop out. The case management system is helping to facilitate the integration of academic and nonacademic support for students at FDLTCC.
HSS & data coach Terri Manning highlighted Stone Child College’s innovative “co-advisor” program, which enlists the help of faculty and staff members tasked with contacting students before the start of classes and working with them to alleviate academic and personal barriers earlier in the process. Students have one co-advisor and one faculty advisor reaching out to them which is particularly important when most faculty are out during the summer. The co-advisor program has given the college the ability to build an advising program for new and returning students that addresses student academic and nonacademic needs.
Clarifying student pathways to graduation
Students at small institutions often benefit from one-on-one communication when it comes to visualizing and taking the necessary steps to graduation. That was the approach Iḷisaġvik College took in helping students understand the importance of scheduling smartly — as well as the consequences of dropping a course. Leaders also acquired and deployed a new student information system (SIS) that empowers students to register and manage their classes online.
“The intangibles to me feel important, because it takes a long time to shift a college’s attitude,” said Iḷisaġvik’s assistant professor of office administration and instruction, Elizabeth Patience. “Conversations are happening, and they’re happening a lot more. We’ve started an enrollment management team that’s looking at the information and asking systemic, data questions that show me that we’re starting to make real progress.”
Similarly, Stone Child College will use some of their funding to create an online career assessment hub, as well as physical computer stations that will be available to students and community members alike. The goal is for students to have the opportunity to take a career assessment, have career advising and planning, and learn about their options, what majors are offered at the college, and job outlook in the state that match their career aspirations.
Improved communication with students
In order to better connect students to supports available at the college, Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College (NHSC) conducted a comprehensive communication audit to understand their strengths and where there were opportunities for improvement. As a result of this thorough examination, NHSC began to use different platforms to customize how they communicated with their students. For example, when NHSC launched its campus radio station, College Talk, faculty couldn’t have known how popular the platform would become. Producers have now moved the broadcast to Facebook Live, where students can access helpful content on a regular basis and chat informally with other classmates and faculty members.
Despite pandemic setbacks, United Tribes Technical College introduced a more efficient way to open lines of communication with students and check in on their academic progress. Tracking attendance in real time allowed the college to reach out to students with problematic attendance patterns and create a plan for them so they don’t lose momentum. This has been critical to helping student complete courses, stay in school, and accumulate necessary credits. At the end of each semester, advisors and wellness counselors conduct a satisfactory academic progress analysis and then reach out to students to discuss their status and their options moving forward. It has created a college-wide system to communicate with and engage students to help them be successful in their classes.
Building on momentum for better student outcomes
In summarizing the impressive early results of the six partner TCUs, Cindy Lopez, ATD’s executive director of network engagement, attributed success to the integration of the various activities the colleges are implementing.
“The work that is taking place is truly transformational for the whole institution,” said Lopez. “These six TCUs have aligned their student success work, which is one of the main goals ATD supports in working with colleges. We work on supporting colleges in integrating all of the parts, so [individual strategies or projects] aren’t isolated initiatives, but rather they fit into the bigger whole.”
“These initiatives are not an add-on,” said Hanson from Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College. “They have always been integrated and a part of what we’re doing.”
By aligning the HSS work with other student success work on campus and with their strategic priorities, colleges can take a systems approach to the supporting students. Aligned work reduces initiative fatigue for employees and helps to make all of the supports for students feel seamless and integrated.
About Serving Native American Students with Holistic Student Supports Project
Six Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) participate in the Serving Native American Students with Holistic Student Supports Project focused on transforming the student experience through a holistic student supports redesign. Through this engagement with Achieving the Dream, the TCUs receive customized coaching, subgrants, and opportunities to engage with the others in the cohort as a community of practice to strengthen their capacity to better serve students in their communities. Learn more about ATD’s role in supporting student success at TCUs.