Progress in the college completion rate in the U.S. has stalled with data showing that the current completion rate of 62.3 percent is essentially the same as for the previous year. That said, more faculty involvement can have a profound impact on this completion rate.

There are many studies that underscore the importance of faculty monitoring and intervention in helping students complete and succeed in on-site educational programs. However, the importance of that oversight and effectiveness in faculty outreach in online university programs – and how professors can adequately monitor student activities so they know if a student may be having difficulty with a course or program – was unclear.

A fully-online higher educational institution, Western Governors University is proactively boosting college completion by implementing technology that personalizes each student’s educational program. In 2019, the university implemented Learner-Centered Faculty (LCF), a student support program that places students at the center of teaching and learning. As part of LCF, the university developed a faculty tool, the Learner Care Dashboard (LCD), a faculty tool that notifies faculty when students have completed or have not completed activities that affect their progression in their course of study.

The activities include assessment attempts, passage and failure, and more, alerting faculty when students don’t open the course in a seven-day period, goes multiple days without academic activity in WGU systems or without interacting with faculty and completing the course. Each activity has a recommended period when a faculty member needs to reach out to the student. Outreach could be in the form of a congratulatory note for successful task completion, offers of resources, an invitation to make an appointment to discuss any issues or encouragement to attend a related online event. All faculty use the LCD dashboard.

The university’s recently-conducted research findings revels that when faculty personally reach out to students who are struggling or even succeeding in their studies, students are more likely to complete their course of study instead of drop out than students who do not receive the same individualized contact. In addition, students who were enrolled in online courses and received timely faculty outreach via the dashboard were 20 percent more likely to complete their course versus students who did not receive the same level of personalized support and encouragement.

The research also revealed that the personalized faculty outreach particularly benefited historically marginalized learners.

Read the full research report here.