ERIC Identifier: ED414960
Publication Date: 1997-10-00
Author: McKinney, Kristen
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Community Colleges Los Angeles CA.
The Use of Computer Data Systems in Academic Counseling:
Outcomes for Community College Students. ERIC Digest.
Enhanced computer technology has made it possible to systematically store and
retrieve large amounts of information. This technology has changed the task of
academic advising by making transcript and course requirement information
readily available to faculty and staff who advise students. Use of the computer
eliminates much of the clerical burden once held by advisors who had to transfer
information to files by hand (Kramer, Peterson, & Spencer, 1984). Computers
also provide the opportunity to perform more complex tracking of student
progress and outcomes. This Digest discusses computer assisted advising
practices currently in use in community colleges, outlining the types of data
collected and how they are used, including the use of tracking to plan
interventions for at-risk students. Examples of selected advising programs at
community colleges provide information about student outcomes. Finally, the
Digest discusses directions for future study.
DATA COLLECTION AND USE
Data tracking systems at most
colleges contain a similar core of information about students, including:
school GPA, and
of courses taken and grades received at the college.
The student record information can be matched with requirements for a
student's degree objective to provide a progress report for use by counselors or
the students themselves. Some community colleges collect additional information
about educational plans, career goals, and students' perceived needs. Much of
this information is assessed at college entry, either through students'
application paperwork or an additional questionnaire.
At the most basic level, computerized records help counselors use their time
more effectively by making information upkeep and retrieval much less time
consuming. However, many colleges have looked beyond applications that simply
assist the counselor to more innovative uses of their computer technology. Some
colleges have even begun to use their data systems for student advising and
retention interventions. Following are four examples of innovative applications
of computerized data systems.
FLORIDA COMMUNITY COLLEGE, FLORIDA
Before an admissions
file is considered complete, students at Florida Community College are required
to submit the Advising and Retention Information (ARI) questionnaire that
includes questions on the students' goals and field of study (Harr, 1990). This
information is entered into the "A Learning Enhancement and Retention Tracking"
(ALERT) system and made available to faculty for each enrolled student at the
beginning of each semester. In return, instructors complete scanable progress
reports for each student midway through the semester from which intervention
strategies are recommended. Such programs, often called "intrusive academic
advising," are designed to closely track student academic progress and identify
where assistance is needed early in the term so as to improve performance and
retention (Garing, 1993).
PORTLAND COMMUNITY COLLEGE, OREGON
In 1990, Portland
Community College conducted a pilot test of their ADVISE program (Bach, 1992).
The computerized database allows advisors to utilize transcript information and
information about course offerings to help students plan their schedules for the
upcoming term. Similar to most other programs of this type, the goal of ADVISE
is to increase the academic success and retention of at-risk students. To test
its effectiveness prior to use with this specific population, a group of 100
volunteers was solicited from new student orientation sessions and assigned to
either a test or control group. The test subjects had a block put on their
registration requiring them to obtain the signature of their advisor before they
could enroll, thus forcing them to meet and discuss plans with their advisor.
Preliminary results after one semester showed no differences between the two
groups in terms of GPA, number of credit hours completed, and appropriateness of
courses taken based on major and placement test scores. Despite inconclusive
results in the pilot study, PCC implemented the registration blocking system for
those students who fail to complete 50 percent of their courses each term or
whose GPA falls below a 2.0, thus requiring at-risk students to seek guidance
from their advisor.
MIDLANDS TECHNICAL COLLEGE, SOUTH CAROLINA
Comprehensive Student Success Program at Midlands pairs the use of computerized
student transcript information with a variety of staff training initiatives that
introduce advisors to the concepts of customer service and developmental
academic advising (Oliver, 1993). The primary goals of this program are to
reduce attrition (especially in at-risk populations such as students with
undeclared majors and students of color), increase the utilization of student
support services, and involve all students in orientation and advising programs.
Each new student meets with a counselor to develop a student educational plan.
The student and counselor discuss the educational plan and use the information
to schedule first term courses. After the first meeting, students are not
required to see their advisor again unless they fail to maintain satisfactory
academic progress. In addition to its use by counselors, the computerized
database is used to generate letters referring students to college services that
match their academic needs, such as tutoring and workshops.
A comparison of student retention rates after three years with those
calculated prior to the implementation of the program revealed that the number
of students retained in the college after one year increased by 7.1 percent. The
first year retention rates of targeted at-risk populations experienced even
greater increases; retention of academically underprepared students rose 15.5
percent, undeclared majors 15.6 percent, and minority students 10.0 percent. Use
of student support services by all students increased over the three years by
10%. Increased student enrollment revenues gained from the higher retention
rates have helped the college support the costs of running this advising and
MIAMI DADE COMMUNITY COLLEGE, FLORIDA
Miami Dade was one of
the first community colleges to utilize computers to assist in advising
functions (Kramer, Peterson, & Spencer, 1984). The Academic Alert (AA)
system at Miami Dade was designed to provide students with information about
their progress midway through the semester (Belcher, 1991). Reports are gathered
from faculty and fed into a computer that prints individualized progress letters
to be sent to students. AA letter information is also forwarded to counselors
for use in advising.
An evaluation of Academic Alert revealed that while the majority of the
faculty (76 percent) thought that students would already know where they stand
without AA, only 36 percent of students thought the same. Furthermore, faculty
expressed concern that students would not take action to improve even when faced
with progress information. However, a study comparing students who did and did
not receive letters showed that those who did receive letters had slightly
higher term GPAs than those who did not (2.32 and 2.28 respectively). This
suggests that students do in fact use the information as an impetus to seek help
and improve performance.
It is clear that the use of computer data
systems in advising reduces the amount of time spent performing clerical
functions. Little consensus, however, has been reached on the overall
effectiveness of computer-based academic intervention strategies. They do appear
to be most successful when technology is paired with human resources. Faculty
who receive training in developmental advising can use the computer-generated
information to give students an accurate picture of where they stand. Computer
tracking of students and registration blocking can help to ensure that students
do in fact meet face to face with a counselor. Perhaps the old adage "the
machine is only as good as the person who uses it" applies here. The National
Academic Advising Association (NACADA) has identified and addressed the general
need across institutional types for guidelines, patterns, and procedures for
advisors on how to more effectively utilize technology (Kramer, et. al., 1996).
However, a more systematic and widespread study geared to the
computer-assisted advising practices at community colleges needs to be conducted
to better understand the dynamics of these interventions. Further research into
this area should note differences in the student populations, needs, and advisor
training at each campus, and how interventions may vary based on these
Bach, S., Bernstein, G., and Vaughters, B.
(1992, June). "ADVISE: A Catalyst for Change in Student Advising and Student
Tracking." Paper presented at the 4th Summer Institute on Institutional
Effectiveness and Student Success. Vail, CO. (ED 345 825)
Belcher, M. (1991). "Costs Vs. Benefits: An Evaluation of the Academic Alert
System." Research Report #91-02r. Miami, FL: Office of Institutional Research,
Miami Dade Community College. (ED 340 423)
Garing, M. T. (1993). "Intrusive Academic Advising." In M. C. King (Ed.),
"Academic Advising: Organizing and Delivering Services for Student Success," New
Directions for Community Colleges, No. 82. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.
Harr, G. L. (1990). "ALERT Student Retention Tracking System: Faculty
Handbook, 1990-1991." Jacksonville, FL: Florida Community College. (ED 360 012)
Kramer, G. L., Peterson, E. D., & Spencer, R. W. (1984). "Using Computers
in Academic Advising." In R. B. Winston, Jr., T. K. Miller, S. C. Ender, T. J.
Grites & Associates (Eds.), Developmental Academic Advising (pp. 226-249).
San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.
Kramer, G.L., Sherron, G., Christensen, L., McCauley, M., Leslie, J., Bell,
M., Peterson, E. D. (1996, October). Transforming Academic Advising Through the
Use of Technology. Monograph Series, Washington, D.C.: National Academic
Advising Association (NACADA).
Oliver, S. (1993, June ). "Promoting Student Success Through Targeted
Services and Assessment Procedures." Paper presented at the 5th Summer Institute
on Institutional Effectiveness and Student Success, Madison, WI. (ED 363 364)