A virtual tool for advising transfer students

Florida International University has well-established relationships with area community colleges that serve as a model for partnerships and pathways that help transfer students succeed. The university’s Connect4Success program has eased the transition and made the path to the AA and Bachelor’s degrees smoother and clearer for many transfer students.

Connect4Success began as a partnership program between FIU and four local and regional state colleges: Miami Dade College, Broward College, Florida Keys Community College, and Palm Beach State College. Participants who earn an AA within three years of enrollment are automatically admitted to FIU. (As of 2016, the program expanded to include any public community or state college in Florida.)

“An important part of this program is the Bridge Advisors, who are housed at those sending colleges,” explained Janie Valdes, assistant vice president for Undergraduate Education. “It can create some role confusion to have six or seven staff members working remotely at our partner colleges, and we’ve had some hiccups.”

Leveraging data. Although the supervisor and Bridge Advising team have good relationships, communicating advisors’ day-to-day work hasn’t always been easy. For example, how many students are advisors seeing? Why? When? When are they tabling at events? How many students did they talk to?

“At the end of the day, we have Bridge Advisors out there doing good work, but we need to capture exactly what they’re doing to evaluate our efforts,” Valdes said. The Excel spreadsheets they were using to record student interactions simply weren’t up to the task in this data-driven era. That’s what led them to create a unique tool for advisors.

“The spreadsheets were tedious for advisors to fill out and laborious for supervisors to sift through,” she said. “There was no way to compare data, and it felt clunky.”

So the team called on David Granda, senior applications business analyst, to create a new, data-driven system.

Tech specs. After consulting with the team about their needs, Granda created a web-based app that not only records all of the information previously included in the spreadsheet, but also has more advanced features, such as allow automated messaging to students. The app questionnaire takes less than a minute for the advisor to complete and creates searchable and sortable data for supervisors. (See example below.)

“The app is mobile-friendly,” said Granda. “All the advisor has to do is fill out the form--which includes G.P.A., credits, notes, and so on. From there, you can get information like what days are busiest, what keywords students are using. You can use predictive analytics, and you can send automatic reports to supervisors.”

Once Bridge Advisors save the record, the app creates an email copy to send to students as a reminder of what they talked about.

“It’s a custom php application using MySQL database--all built in-house using some open source apps out there,” Granda said. And the app can be modified, for example, to add information about events.

Dive deeper. “Now we have the ability to get more robust data to share with our constituents and partners about activities, volume, and performance” Valdes said. “And it helps us better understand the intricacies of the advisor’s experiences at various campuses.”

Valdes and Granda will talk in greater depth about their experience at their session at the upcoming AACRAO Technology and Transfer Conference, June 7-9 in New Orleans. Register now.