7 essential steps to creating an early alert system

7 Essential Steps To Creating An Early Alert Program

Implementing an early alert program is an excellent way to improve student retention. These tools can dramatically increase the effectiveness of your student success centres. This article contains some important points for you to consider when changing or implementing a new early alert program.

While you may know that you want an early alert system, you may not know where to start. We recognize that these systems are complex. If you have any further questions about early alert systems, please reach out to one of our experts who would be happy to speak with you.

1. Establish Strong Interdepartmental Communication

To introduce an early alert program, start by building it on a strong foundation. Begin by ensuring that your departments are operating efficiently. This is always a continuous goal for higher education institutions- but there are some specific key points of competence that should be met.

You need to ensure that communication channels between departments are open. Oftentimes, we fall into silos when it comes to our individual teams. Can information flow freely and easily between the writing department, advising centre, and student tutors? Students will touch all of these departments while receiving the help they need. Therefore, it is integral that the goals and practices are aligned among all departments.

2. Define The Actual Problem To Be Solved

Yes, an early alert system is important, but you need to understand why you are actually using it. Are you having problems with student retention? Do you know why? You should be working to find the key areas where students are struggling.

AI tools are a popular trend in early alert systems for higher education. However, it is not a panacea, and is not the best option in all cases. Firstly, an AI system is enormously complex with extensive applications, but its usefulness is reliant on your actual use case. These systems are capable of sending overwhelming amounts of information to you, and not all of it is relevant. As we all know in academia- there is often more than meets the eye when it comes to data. 

To that end, an early alert system is only as accurate as the data that has been given to it. What we are seeing now are AI tools that don’t necessarily report students who need help the most- they fall prey to stereotypes based on economic, gender, and racial factors. An AI early alert system will send many “struggling” students to you, but they are not at academic risk. This adds a layer of filtering to be done, and can actually make your retention efforts less efficient. As well, AI notifications do not provide a social connection, something which many universities lack today that reduces retention.

Conversely, if you decide to use a “traditional” early alert system that isn’t AI driven, you may find that you have a more manageable caseload of students. Also, the students that are referred to you are actually able to get the help that they need. Additionally, a system that doesn’t have AI will be easier for your IT department to manage, and will not supply you with superfluous information of dubious accuracy.

For example, our early alert system tracks key indicators that have been shown to reduce student success. Once a student has been identified as struggling, an alert is sent to a counsellor or administrator who can send the student a pre-written message that gives essential information and next steps. This simple process is proven to increase retention and reduce the cost of recruiting. 

3. Decide Who Is Responsible For Each Role

It is important to create an equitable division of labour between departments. Perhaps some teams have a lower capacity than others, and that must be accounted for. You also must determine who will be maintaining the system, who will be responsible for reaching out to students, and who will determine key performance indicators. It is essential to ask these questions and determine if changes need to be made.

These roles should be solidified before you fully implement your early alert system. This step, along with all of the steps in this article, encourage you to recognize the importance of planning before implementation. Creating a strong organizational foundation is integral to success.

4. Determine Your Goals

As with all projects, it is essential to know what Key Performance Indicators will be measured, how they will be measured, reported, and what will be done with those reports.

Be sure to prioritize your goals, and communicate that to all teams. Some departments may have different priorities; therefore, it is integral to ensure everyone is in agreement over which tasks are most important.

As well, consider what data you actually need. You will likely want to monitor your retention as well as your dropout rate. Once you implement your early alert system you can assess its success over time. Going into more detail, important data points are 

5. Create Workflows To Optimize Efficiency

Now that we have established our goals, it is time to create effective workflows. One of the key considerations when it comes to workflows is accessibility. You need a workflow that is easy to access- and use. This is especially true at the outset of integration, when your staff and faculty are having to shift to a new platform. You want to make the implementation as seamless as possible. Therefore, it will be necessary to introduce an early alert system that has a simple and intuitive user interface. Be wary of this: there are many products on the market that claim to be intuitive- but their interfaces are so convoluted with unnecessary features that they are very difficult to understand, and staff require continual training updates (which is very costly over time). Fortunately, QuadC is designed specifically to be a workflow engine.

It would be helpful to document the process of creating your workflows. By keeping track of the changes made, you will be able to see the evolution of your workflows. In doing this, you can determine your best practices and even use it as a model for future IT projects. 

We have mentioned this several times already, but it is worth stressing that these processes are collaborative. To that end, communication channels, tools, and departments need to be aligned.

6. Writing Appropriate Pre-Written Responses For Students

When reaching out to a struggling student, you want to be able to control the nuance of that message. If an AI tool is reaching out automatically, it may not be able to exhibit the tact that comes from a real person. QuadC allows you to customize the messages you send to students. You can pre-write responses that align with your specific institution. Perhaps you use a particular name to address your students (i.e. Bearcats), or you want to convey a certain degree of formality or informality. These can be decided in advance, and be approved by a leader. This ensures there is a consistency in service being delivered to your students that aligns your institution’s values with the student’s need for help.

When deciding what to write to students, consider that their poor course performance may be a source of embarrassment for them. Try as best you can to align the message with the sentiment that it isn’t too late to save their final grade (after all, that is the point of an early alert system).

Finally, when pre-writing a message for an early alert system, be sure to include relevant action items for the student, stressing the importance of acting swiftly. By having a pre-written response to send, you can ensure your staff are consistently delivering all the relevant information to the students. 

7. Ensure You Use A Strong Software Partner

Creating an early alert program is a large undertaking, one which will be made much smoother if you use a strong software partner. We don’t just say this because we provide an excellent early alert program. This is genuinely a consideration which you must take into account.

You need to ensure that you will receive adequate support for when you have questions or concerns. You want to know you will be treated as an important partner, who will listen and work alongside you to help you succeed. 

Purchasing an early alert system will save you an enormous amount of money, time, and will likely be more effective than designing and building one in-house. But with all things, ensure that the partner you align with has taken the time and effort to build a service that you believe will genuinely benefit you. Many companies will show off the myriad complex functions of their systems, but you need to critically ask whether that is necessary for your institution or not worth the costs.

In conclusion, an early alert system is certainly a good investment. By asking the right questions and creating a strong organizational foundation you can magnify your student retention efforts. Be sure to communicate your intentions and goals across relevant departments, and in working together, define your actual needs and the needs of your students. From this you can set northstar goals that will drive your vision. With these goals in mind, you can create workflows that will set an implementation roadmap and further guide your progress. Finally, taking the time to align yourself with a strong software partner will elevate your early alert program.

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