Redesigning the student experience

Between the fall of 2019 and spring of 2022, through the Serving Native American Students with Holistic Student Supports project, six Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) began redesigning the student experience through the development of a customized and holistic student supports framework.

United Tribes Technical College

Over the course of a three-year grant period, administrators and staff at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College (FDLTCC), Iḷisaġvik College, Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College (NHSC), Stone Child College, United Tribes Technical College (UTTC), and White Earth Tribal and Community College collaborated on the project and received intensive, customized coaching from Achieving the Dream (ATD) to be able to better serve students in their communities.

With a network of more than 300 community colleges across the country, Achieving the Dream brings expert coaches, groundbreaking programs, a robust system of peer support, and more together to support students. ATD offers institutions integrated, tailored support for every aspect of their work. The organization calls this Whole College Transformation. Its vision is for every college to be a catalyst for equitable, antiracist, and economically vibrant communities.

For the TCUs involved in the project, the goal was to help break down organizational barriers in structure, policy, and practice to make it easier for students to complete their college goals. The project resulted in the Holistic Student Support Redesign toolkit.

The following are the stories of two of the TCUs.

Get to Know Students Better, Faster

To better understand their enrollment process, the leadership team at UTTC documented the existing process using a graphical depiction of the first steps in the student journey, from initial interest in attending to being registered for classes. The impact of understanding the student experience has led UTTC to make a number of changes to its design. These changes include an enhanced and simplified process, finding and fixing where students get stuck, greater accountability, and improved communication across campus for better student support.

UTTC’s enrollment process improvements have increased year-over-year spring enrollment by 43%.

A Strong New-Student Experience

As the result of efforts to ensure that all new students are set up for a successful college experience, FDLTCC advisors now proactively reach out to every new student to schedule an advising meeting. They will phone, email, and text until they are successful in connecting with the new student and scheduling this appointment.

Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College

During this initial onboarding session, the advisor covers vital topics with the student, including:

  • Discussing the student’s Intake Form responses
  • Connecting students to appropriate college and community resources
  • Creating an academic plan
  • Assisting students with registration
  • Prompting the completion of the Online Orientation Module
  • Offering guidance on the financial aid process

Beyond fostering a strong advisor/advisee relationship right from the start, this proactive approach is also helping to ensure all students get onto a solid path toward achieving their academic goals.

Streamlining Communication Between Instructors, Advisors, and Students

FDLTCC also deployed the Starfish student success platform, which they rebranded “North Star,” to more quickly identify and support struggling students. With North Star, when faculty or staff detect a student might be struggling, they can easily alert FDLTCC’s support staff and track the issue to resolution.

FDLTCC configured North Star to create automatic alerts based on a student’s specific circumstances, including:

  • Non-attendance after first week to term
  • Attendance concern during the term
  • Fourth-week academic progress report (for students living on campus and student athletes)
  • Midterm grade academic progress report (for all students)
  • Referral for various supports (e.g., disability services, information technology support, tutoring support, and mental health support)

Early alerts foster collaboration among faculty, staff, and students to identify and resolve issues hindering academic progress. The college gains insight into student success from both a micro and a macro level and adapts for better outcomes. The initial results of this program are promising.

In less than one year, 80% of FDLTCC faculty have adopted the new retention software, contributing to a 5% rise in the fall-to-spring retention rate in academic year 21–22 compared to the prior.

Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies supports increasing success factors for college students from rural and Native American communities through our Postsecondary Student Success program area. These efforts ultimately aim to improve the retention, attainment, skill development, graduation, and employability of students from these communities.

These stories are two of six spotlights originally appearing alongside the Holistic Student Support Redesign toolkit on ATD’s website, They have been combined and edited for length and clarity.