At The College of Westchester, supporting our students is a vital part of what we do. All students deserve access to support resources, at the times when they need them. We supplement our technology support by leveraging the affordable services Pearson Embanet to provide outstanding support 24x7x365. In this guest post, Upswing co-founder and CEO Melvin Hines offers insights into the vital need to provide around the clock support to students, especially those who are predominanlty online and find it challenging to come to campus for support. – KW
The National Center for Education Statistics finds 63% of students who started working toward their bachelor’s degree in the fall of 2013 completed their degree within six years. However, by most accounts, the graduation rate for online students is less than half that amount.
So Upswing, an online student engagement organization, took a deep dive into data from its integrated student services platform to understand this vast disparity.
Upswing continually advocates for online and nontraditional students. They believe the discrepancy has less to do with the students’ capability or motivation and more to do with their lack of access to critical student-focused resources for online and nontraditional students.
Let’s break down the findings.
During an average 30-day period, Upswing found 130,000 different users access the Upswing platform to connect with campus resources.
Before long, specific trends began to emerge from the data. Some trends are expected, while others dispel four common myths that many college learning centers believe when supporting online students.
Myth #1: Online Students Don’t Study During Weekends…
Upswing’s usage data shows that nearly one in five — or 20% — of all virtual sessions occur over the weekend. Sunday afternoons and evenings provide some of the most consistent activity, with 6.5% of all sessions occurring between noon and midnight on Sundays.
At most institutions, virtually no student support resources are available during the weekends. Not only does the lack of weekend availability impact student success overall, but it mainly affects students who have work, family, or other responsibilities that prevent them from seeking help Monday through Friday.
Case in point: One Upswing student said she was planning on dropping out of college. When asked why she said she was struggling with classes online and didn’t feel that anyone at her school cared about whether or not she succeeded. Digging deeper, it seemed that getting help when she needed it was a significant obstacle.
Upswing helped the student regain her confidence and plot a course to get back on track. But this example shows how online and nontraditional students often suffer in silence before ultimately deciding to drop out of school.
Myth #2: Online students may need help at odd hours, but we capture the majority of students with our traditional schedule…
Upswing usage activity data reveals that institutions following the standard availability schedule only capture the needs of 32% of students looking for help, leaving 68% of all student needs and requests unanswered each day.
Two of the heaviest hourly blocks — Monday evening from 5 to 6 and Monday evening from 6 to 7 — are times when traditional learning and support help is unavailable. On average, more than 4,000 students log onto Upswing for support during this time every week.
Early cutoff times hurt all students, but they disproportionately affect those who are most vulnerable. For example, a recent Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce study finds that 70% of all college students have a part-time or full-time job. These students are more likely to be lower-income, minority, and female.
Myth #3: Friday support hours aren’t necessary…
Many institutions only offer support Mondays through Thursdays, assuming that students aren’t looking for help on Fridays because it leads into the weekend. However, based on Upswing data, that’s not the case.
Usage data shows that the demand for help is lighter on Fridays compared to the other weekdays. But nearly 15% of all student support sessions happen on the last day of the workweek.
Upswing found from 9 am to 6 pm on Fridays, demand is nearly as high as every other weekday. It isn’t until after 6 pm on Friday when there is a significant decline in requests for the day.
Myth #4: Budget constraints make it impossible to help more students…
Limited budgets hamstring all institutions and facing the task of helping more students while maintaining costs, but it can be done based on Upswing’s work with several institutions.
Challenges created by the pandemic, stagnant (or reduced) budgets, and other challenges have put colleges under a great deal of pressure. Still, Upswing’s data shows these challenges don’t have to result in higher student attrition.
Simple adjustments can have monumental effects on student success, especially remote students unaware of critical campus resources. Sometimes the best way to help a student pass a class isn’t to teach more academics but instead to check in with students and ask the question, “How are you doing right now?” A simple check-in can go a long way towards changing the lives of the student and their families.
Melvin Hines, co-founder and CEO of Upswing, can share more insight about this important topic or provide input for any related stories you’re working on.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions or interview requests at 914.388.2166.