By Troy Miller, Senior Researcher and Policy Analyst, Florida College Access Network
Remember what it was like to see how close you were to graduating, or find out which classes you had left to take? I still have distant memories of hunting on my campus for a course catalog, getting a copy of my transcript, matching everything up, making a checklist and registering thereafter. Thankfully, advances in technology has made it possible to navigate this process with much more speed and efficiency, as programs called academic tracking systems have emerged on college campuses all across the country.
Despite these developments, a survey done by the Florida Board of Governors shows only a few state universities currently have the ability to track student progress in a way that modern technology affords.1 This means students registering or making decisions about their program of study are likely do so in a way similar to what students experienced 10 years ago (or longer). It also means that the institutions themselves aren’t able track the progress of their own students without performing individual degree audits – a painstaking, error-prone process.2 The list, unfortunately, doesn’t look much different than what it did in in 2006, when OPPAGA published a report on student tracking systems the impact they can have on campus graduation and retention rates.
State University System of Florida Academic Tracking Systems: Fall 2012
|Florida A & M University
|New “Academic Advisement Module” coming summer 2013
|Florida Atlantic University
|No tracking system used, u.direct considered for later implementation
|Florida Gulf Coast University
|Degree Works being implemented
|Florida International University
|My eAdvisor being implemented
|Florida State University
|MAPPING advising and monitoring system in place since 2004
|New “Student Evaluation System” goes live Jan. 2013
|University of Central Florida
|No academic tracking system currently in place
|University of Florida
|Universal Tracking in place since 1996
|University of North Florida
|Osprey Maps in use since 2008
|University of South Florida
|Degree Works currently in use
|University of West Florida
|Degree Works degree audit system is being implemented on campus, but academic tracking system is not currently in place
These new tracking systems are seen as a valuable tool in helping colleges and their students cut down on access hours, improve graduation and retention rates and make better use of the time they spend with advisors. The campuses that have invested and implemented them have benefitted from their presence. At the University of Florida, their Universal Tracking system has helped boost 4-year and 6-year graduation rates 15% and 7% respectively since 1996. The UF system has been so successful it has been referred to as a national model for reducing time-to-degree for students. Florida State University has also experienced the benefits tracking systems can bring, as they have witnessed modest increases in their retention and graduation rates since implementation of their system in 2004. These systems alone are not responsible for all the gains seen in student outcomes, but their value is openly acknowledged by the campuses that use them.
These systems don’t appear on college campuses overnight, as there are barriers to overcome before they can be implemented. First, they are expensive. The University of South Florida brought Degree Works onto their campus in 2011, which cost over $400,000. Such expenses typically require approval from an institution’s board of trustees, which during the current economic climate is easier said than done. The second problem these tracking systems can present is that they are an IT nightmare. The professionals responsible for oversight of these projects are worth their weight in gold, as a glitch during implementation can shut the whole student database down. Third is training, colleges often speak their own “language,” and going from one system to another takes time to translate to students, staff, advisors and faculty. There are just some of the examples of the challenges these programs present before putting place, which is why getting from approval to implementation is often a multi-year process.
During a recent Florida Board of Governors meeting, it was recommended the Board’s Academic and Student Affairs Committee look into the cost associated with implementing a successful academic tracking system (like UF’s) to other institutions in need of one. With the discussion our state is having about productivity, cost, and student outcomes, it should be a no-brainer to put forth the investments needed to help students complete their degrees in a timely way.
~Follow Troy Miller on Twitter @TroyMillerFCAN
1 The best systems allow students the ability to access to their real-time academic records anytime, while enabling them to track their own progress, match their credits with other possible programs and search available courses.
2 I advised students for four years and had experiences working with old tracking systems, as well as a new one. As anyone who has worked with a newer system can attest to, it’s like going from trying to find your way in a busy city on a bicycle to getting in a car and using GPS navigation. Once you learn how to use it you have complete control over where you want to go.