Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

December 9, 2023

Starfish program connects faculty; students

Augustana has implemented a new communication tool to improve discourse between students, professors and assorted faculty members. Kristin Douglas, associate dean of the college, said the overall goal of the program is to increase student retention rates by improving the interconnectivity of Augustana’s community.
The program is called Starfish, and it was launched at the beginning of winter term following over half a year of investigating and evaluating similar communication programs. This system allows for teachers to electronically communicate comments and concerns regarding students to the dean’s office, advisors and other applicable staff. These concerns may range from academic information to personal information such as health issues.
Prior to Starfish, administrators had utilized a program called Care.
However, Douglas said, “(Augustana) had a system for the last two years that was okay–it served some of our needs–but it had many limitations, and we knew that we needed a much more robust early alert system.”
Starfish is considered one the industry leaders for retention alert software. Both public and private, universities such as DePaul, Chicago State, Seton Hall, University of North Dakota and Southern Illinois-Carbondale use the software. Douglas said that the reviews they received from other schools were “overwhelmingly positive.”
Douglas pointed to three specific communication needs that Starfish addresses, including early alert, efficient and effective communication among all people who support a student and a systematic electronic advising note system.
“We never had a way that we could easily communicate with the whole group of people who we know interact frequently with (the) student, and Starfish helps us do that,” said Douglas.
The program will cost around $40,000 in the first year, compared to the past program which cost around $15,000 annually.
“(Care) was not a very robust program and…it didn’t allow for conversations across departments,” said Provost Pareena Lawrence. “If I retain one more student because of Starfish, it pays for itself.”
Currently, Augustana has a retention rate of 85 percent. Lawrence believes that a school such as Augustana should have a 90 percent or higher retention rate and hopes Starfish will help to accomplish that.
There has been some concerns among students that the information collected through this database may create an unsavory future bias.
However, both Lawrence and Douglas iterated that the sole intent of the program is help students be successful. Lawrence went on to note that the program complies will all federal laws regarding sharing of student
Sharon Varallo, professor of communication studies, believes that the passing of information regarding students is just as probable to happen in face-to-face communication.
“We are a community where for better or for worse we learn about each other as whole people,” said Varallo.
Douglas reiterated that this information was already accumulated, the only difference is that now it is electronic.
Lawrence also indicated that this may help raise graduation rates from their current level of 73 percent.
“If we want to raise that to 85 percent, we cannot let them drop off; we need to able to support them,” said Lawrence.
Overall she said Starfish is a system that helps foster an infrastructure of support for current students and ultimately put them on a path for success.
Although the program is still in its infancy, access will be available to students in the fall.

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Starfish program connects faculty; students