Student Success Platform

What Triggers Should You Use in Your Student Early Alert System?

All too often, students brimming with potential fall through the cracks in college, leading to lowered retention rates. But what if there was a way to identify these students early before it's too late? Student early alert systems facilitate exactly that, ensuring students receive support in time for it to make a difference. 

However, the effectiveness of early alert systems hinges on using the right triggers. So, what should you keep an eye out for?

triggers to use student early alert system

Download the Checklist: How to Build a Proactive Early Alert System

Before diving into what triggers your early alert system should include, let’s look at what these triggers mean. When something is categorized as a trigger in an early alert system, it means that when a determined criterion is met, the system will create a notification. 

Coordinating faculty members, like a tutor or advisor, will then receive this alert and begin taking steps to support this student. It’s a means of proactive intervention for students. Rather than waiting until a class is failed or a student is about to drop out, these alerts enable students to get the help they need to solve the issue before it becomes irreversible.  

Drastic fluctuations or changes in behavior will trigger an alert and, consequently, trigger proactive intervention like tutoring or advising. 

Behavioral change → Trigger → Early alert → Proactive Intervention

Now, let’s talk about the two overarching types of triggers typically used: behavioral and demographic. 


Behavioral Data

The foundational triggers of any early alert system include student behavior data. 

  • Grade fluctuations: A sudden drop in test scores or GPA can indicate difficulty grasping new concepts, personal challenges impacting focus, or even a misunderstanding of course expectations.

  • Attendance: Frequent absences, both in-person and online, can point to various issues like health problems, lack of engagement, or difficulty keeping up with their workload. Missing key lectures or tutoring sessions specifically might indicate trouble understanding crucial material or needing additional support.

  • Assignments: Late submissions, missed deadlines, and consistently low-quality work can signal time management struggles, difficulty with specific concepts, or a lack of understanding of assignment requirements.

  • Engagement: A decrease in communication with instructors, advisors, or online platforms might indicate disengagement, confusion, or even deeper personal issues impacting their ability to participate fully.

Remember, no single trigger tells the whole story. Your early alert system must consider a combination of behaviors that paints a comprehensive picture. After all, if a student performs poorly on one exam in a subject they usually perform well in, it’s unlikely that they’re suddenly at a higher risk of dropping out or failing. 

But, by consistently monitoring these behavioral triggers, your early alert system can become a valuable instrument for identifying at-risk students. Remember, early intervention is key, and your support can significantly impact their academic journey.



While behavioral triggers offer valuable insights, it's important to remember they're just one piece of the puzzle. Student success is complex, influenced by various factors beyond academic performance. This is where demographic considerations come in. 

Studies have shown that students of specific demographics are at higher dropout risk. However, it's crucial to approach them with a nuanced understanding. Let's explore some common examples.

  • Financial aid recipients: Students relying on financial aid often juggle job commitments and financial stress alongside academic demands. This can impact their time management, focus, and overall well-being.

    • About half of low-income students, as measured by those who received Pell Grants, graduate in six years, compared with a graduation rate of 65% for students who don’t receive federal aid. 

  • First-generation college students: First-generation students may lack the familial guidance and college experience that peers with college-educated parents might have. This means they might enter the university environment with skewed expectations of workloads and academic pressures. 

  • Commuter students: Commuting students often face unique challenges like balancing commutes with academics and feeling less integrated into campus life, which can impact time management and engagement.

In addition to these demographics, some minority students struggle with feelings of isolation at colleges where their numbers are few, which is one reason that the black-white achievement gap persists. According to federal data, there is a nearly 22% gap between the six-year graduation rates of black and white students who entered a four-year college. This can impact motivation and engagement and, consequently, university retention rates. 

It’s important to note that while evidence supports a higher risk of student dropout in these demographics, no student is the same. These triggers should serve as secondary factors when considering a student’s risk level or journey to success, as opposed to a primary identifying factor. 

For example, just because a student is a first-generation student doesn’t mean that they will drop out or need additional support. Similarly, just because a student comes from a long line of college graduates doesn’t mean they won’t need extra assistance to succeed. 

With this in mind, it’s crucial that you use a variety of data points when creating triggers for your early alert system. If a student is struggling academically, it can be beneficial to consider their demographics and see if something is going on beneath the surface. 


Boost Support and Retention with Early Alert System Triggers

Data is a powerful tool, but it’s just the first step. The real value of early alerts lies in effectively utilizing that data to offer personalized support. This requires a dedicated team trained in gathering relevant information and using it to create actionable interventions.

Data may flag a student who might be considering dropping out, but it can't replace the human connection needed to offer individual support and encouragement. It can't help students overcome personal challenges or instill the confidence to continue their studies.

That’s why QuadC’s early alert system connects students with advisors and tutors who have the expertise to translate data into personalized learning plans and guidance. These professionals can offer emotional support, build relationships, and empower students to navigate challenges and achieve their academic goals.

The ideal retention strategy combines data collection, data processing, and highly qualified student support professionals. This data-informed, high-touch approach fosters a supportive and collaborative environment where students feel valued and equipped to succeed.


Get in Touch With QuadC Today!


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