The Edit Blog

Using Data to Increase Student Retention with Staffordshire University

ARTICLE BY Nic Ryan
READ TIME: 5 mins
7th December 2021

Students face many challenges with higher education, and they don’t end once their place on their desired course has been confirmed. The journey a student takes during their first few weeks of a course is one of the most important they will take in their lifetime, as they adjust to a different environment, new ways of learning, and a greater sense of independence.

Staffordshire University came to Edit with policies to drive ambitions for a Next Generation Student Experience to support students in this initial phase and beyond.

A 5-year Access & Participation Plan has stretching and ambitious targets to drive up participation, access and close attainment gaps for their most deprived student demographic and a Flagship initiative in their 2030 strategy will develop and deliver state of the art digitally enabled student engagement. It will create an integrated and intelligent student support environment that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, and nudge technology to identify behaviours the specific support needs of individual students, and through this target interventions that will act to secure wellbeing and continual development and progression.

The project spans across every part of the university, so the team were facing many challenges.

Challenges:

Data

  • Readiness of existing data to support the ambition
  • Lots of data held in many different places
  • Complex and Complicated data landscape understanding the relevance and quality of all the data sources (large data landscape)

Systems

  • Existing technical systems (30+ identified as potentially useful for this project)
  • Connectivity challenges
  • Data dictionaries (partial/incomplete)
  • Not a fully rounded understanding of what data exists

Research

  • Improving and being able to measure student success in attainment, progression, and retention
  • Ability to research the effectiveness of digital interventions on student engagement and ultimately success
  • Proving that interventions work or not – stop doing what doesn’t work and only do what does

Expectations

  • Multiple Stakeholders with their own expectations from the top, down and everyone in between – needing to manage their expectations
  • Need for a solution now

Reporting

  • Willingness to move from a reactive/descriptive to prescriptive analysis
  • Terminologies – Inconsistent across all areas of the University
  • Organisational capabilities (structure, teams, skills)

 

How does the work with Edit fit into a wider programme?

The project so far has introduced a foundation of technical infrastructure and will provide a baseline to allow decisions to be made about next steps such as additional data sources to further enhance the product based on feedback, evaluation, and research.

It has allowed us to unify core data sets along with engagement Welcome Week data as the start point give the project a strong starting point to gain insight quickly.

The university can now gain early insight into student engagement at a key time in the Academic Calendar and take the necessary steps to intervene potentially impacting positively on student retention.

We can iteratively develop and enhance digital innovations designed to support students on a continual basis, while helping to mature staff capability in the use of business intelligence to change practice across the range curricula and student service activities.

And by using Power BI, a familiar and existing platform used by Staffordshire University, the data will be enhanced by unification and insight analysis that will allow staff to proactively intervene to support students.

Edit’s Approach

The challenges that Staffordshire University faced were not unusual to us, in fact we were familiar with these issues as many of our private-sector clients faced them also. The university have many highly intelligent, motivated people, confronting and solving problems and as they come up, but were acting within the confines of siloed departments.
To overcome this hurdle, Edit applied similar methodologies which have been tried and tested successfully. Together with the stakeholders from across the university, we workshopped to facilitate them to create a unified Strategic Vision, so that we could then focus on a Tactical Priority to align all of the departments to be able to get the work underway, and so that we could start delivering results.

Strategic Vision: Enhance Staffordshire University’s position as the Connected University by delivering HE sector leading digital interventions, personalised to each student based on data-driven insight, which reduce continuation rate gaps, increase participation, and increase progression.​

Tactical Priority: Understand the experience of the September 2021 intake using readily available data to quantifiably demonstrate potential impact of the strategic vision.

Edit’s Solution

Once we understood the Tactical Priority and the opportunity from previous data, we could get started on plugging the data gaps, for example, by using the attendance scanners so that we could plug the gaps where data was missing.

Edit’s solution utilised the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Marketing platform.

By designing an intervention strategy powered by data driven insight​ from Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Insights they created the most appropriate technical solution that equips with the capabilities needed​ and created a strategy to address any gaps in skills or organisational capability ​which may cause technology investment to deliver sub-optimal returns.

Tom’s Journey

The entire experience can be powered using the student’s own data, and behavioural predictions can be made using AI to prevent pain-points and dropouts before they happen.

Meet Tom, he’s just one example of the type of student who might face extra challenges during Welcome Week, that our work with Staffordshire University can really help.

Description of Tom - a student attending university, BAME background, mature student

Here is an example of some of the challenges that Tom may face:

Images and descriptions of the types of challenges that Tom may face

Interventions or support during or before any of these struggles would have gone a long way to preventing the issues Tom was facing.

Tom's new journey

We can see that by using data to predict pain points before they happen, solutions and support can be put in place to achieve a successful start to Tom’s higher education.

 

We’re incredibly proud of what we have achieved with our partnership with Staffordshire University, and the learning experience Edit has had will go on to helping thousands of students in one university alone. If you think your higher education institution would benefit from a consultation to assess your data, marketing, or technology challenges we’d love to hear from you.

Contact us here