Adam Wade and Jairo McMican, Central Carolina Community
A student returning to Central Carolina Community College (CCCC) starts courses in the fall semester in their chosen field: Early Childhood Education. One month into the semester, the student approaches their advisor requesting to be withdrawn from all courses due to lacking access to technology resources when completing coursework at home, needing mental health resources, and having trouble balancing coursework with family obligations. This example is just one of many instances why CCCC embarked on creating an intake survey to proactively connect students to support services and other needed resources prior to enrollment.
An intake survey is a short questionnaire completed by students. The intake survey collects important information for college employees when proactively identifying services or resources that would beneficially connect students with what they need prior to or during enrollment. These services or resources enhance the probability for the student to be academically successful at the college while also facilitating individual outreach. At CCCC, we also believe that this tool and process rests at the very heart of equity work, helping each student find success along their academic pathway according to their unique needs.
For CCCC, this work began during our experience with the North Carolina Guided Pathways (NC GPS) initiative through the North Carolina Student Success Center. A team from our college was exposed to many colleges from across the state of North Carolina and the nation that were implementing intake surveys and engaging in other innovative practices that improved onboarding and student support. We were specifically inspired by the work of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. They implemented an intake survey as a part of their admissions and onboarding experience. As we explored further, we found that other North Carolina colleges were doing the same. During the NC GPS experience, we learned, from Achieving the Dream, ways we could more deeply explore improving support for students at CCCC through the Holistic Student Support Institute. While attending the institute, we identified an intake survey as a tool to address racial equity gaps. In addition, we were connected to Lorain County Community College (LCCC) who had also implemented an intake survey. A small team from our college visited LCCC to learn more about their admissions, onboarding, advising, and various student supports.
As a team, we returned inspired to pilot, test, and start many of the new initiatives and innovative practices that we learned about, including the intake survey. We first selected a diverse team of faculty and staff to begin reviewing the design of an intake survey and associated proactive outreach. We engaged offices and departments like Financial Aid, Student Support Services, Accessibility Services, TRIO-SSS, Admissions, Advising, Success Coaching, Institutional Effectiveness, and faculty members from a variety of academic disciplines. We began by introducing the idea of an intake survey and asked the team to imagine and identify what student barriers the survey could eliminate. We took a deep dive into our “why?” behind the initiative using Maslow’s Theory on Hierarchy of Needs (1943) as a framework for our discussion. Could addressing student needs by connecting them with resources prior to enrollment alleviate concerns before they became apparent? Could this prevent students from withdrawing or stopping out? Much of the feedback we gathered from advisors and success coaches, who regularly work with students to address concerns, was that we were too late in providing suggested resources when a student must stop out.
As the team continued to synthesize various intake surveys and review what colleges from across the nation were doing, we considered how we would create our own survey and process. We sifted through a variety of intake forms, debated the types of questions to ask, and crafted the wording and order of each question. Although tedious, the authoring of the survey was an extremely valuable process. Ultimately, our intentionality produced a survey that was actionable, gathered information that we did not already collect, and probed issues that could result in lost momentum for students. The survey underwent multiple rounds of revisions and will continue to evolve over time.
Once a strong draft was created, our team began to work with success coaches to map college and community resources to the answers on the survey, the goal being to enable us to easily connect students to resources based on their responses to certain questions. We also assigned a score matrix that calculated a total score and produced a risk indicator, assisting staff in prioritizing the most urgent student concerns first.
Our team also worked with our Institutional Effectiveness department to determine the best use of technology to implement the intake survey. Initially, we used a Google form due to the ease of use and accessibility as a Google campus, and now we use a ticketing system through Qualtrics. We conducted a series of training sessions for our success coaches and several other staff members who were principally identified to conduct the outreach. The training consisted of reviewing resources and support services available, explaining methods to conduct the outreach, and discussing how to filter the results to address urgent concerns.
As a team, we decided to implement the intake survey as part of the admissions and onboarding process. We created an email invitation for all students who submitted an admissions application five days after their application was processed. The email prompted students to log in with their college credentials where the survey was linked. We also modified how the survey was presented to students. To avoid any confusion and to signal continuation of their onboarding, we named the survey the New Student Success Questionnaire.
As we started the process of building our intake survey, our team knew the initiative needed to be part of a larger cultural shift at our institution. For Amarillo College, completion rates rose from 22% to 56% in just three years by addressing student poverty barriers (Lowery-Hart, 2020). By building our own “culture of care,” CCCC would focus on removing barriers to completion and providing students with a better opportunity to be successful. We branded and linked our multitude of support services as CC CARES, where we include all resources and support services in one easy location.
While we are still in the initial stages, our team is observing promising data on the positive impact we are having for our students. In Fall 2019, 553 students at CCCC completed the survey, received outreach from a staff member, and enrolled in the fall semester. Of the respondents, 75% successfully completed the courses they attempted, on par with the overall CCCC completion rate of 75%. Of those that started the Fall 2019 term, 93% were retained to the end of the term, on par with the overall CCCC rate of 93%. Additionally, 73% were retained to Spring 2020, compared to 75% of overall CCCC fall to spring retention. We will continue to refine our survey and process to maximize this experience for our students. If you are pondering implementing an intake survey, contemplate the following:
Build a diverse team. Be intentional about the faculty and staff that will co-create and revise your intake survey. If you want it to make an impact, this process requires diverse voices at the table. You will want to include as many stakeholders as possible to ensure that your intake survey will effectively address student concerns.
Design a model and a survey that will work for your college. The one we use at CCCC might not fit your college. Build the survey and the model according to your structure, culture, and students. Additionally, consider the technology and modalities you will use to deliver the survey.
Devote significant time. Identify the staff members on your campus that are best suited to take on this role. It will take up a considerable amount of time as this is an individualized approach for each individual student. Additionally, make sure the staff members who are responding are efficiently equipped.
Prepare to make ongoing changes to the survey. It is important to note that our intake survey at CCCC is fluid and requires many iterations. The questions, the order of questions, how they are worded or phrased should constantly shift as your culture, structure, and students change over time. The survey should adapt to these changes.
Review your responses often. This provides the data on the number of students responding and allows your team to identify the most frequently needed resources or support services being requested. This also identifies the gaps in your existing campus resources. What doesn’t your college community provide that would be beneficial for students?
It’s a learning process. Give yourself grace. Your team will learn what works at your college, what does not, who else might need to be involved, and how to better prepare your staff. Be patient and remember that this is just one tool in your student support toolbox!
Director of Admissions
Central Carolina Community College
Dean of Student Learning
Central Carolina Community
Central Carolina Cares. https://www.cccc.edu/we-care/
Lowery-Hart, R. (2020, November 12). Love students to success and close equity gaps through a culture of caring. https://diverseeducation.com/article/196070/
Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370–396. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0054346
Cite this article using APA style as: Wade, A., & McMican, J. (2021, December). Help us help you: A college’s journey to more equitably support their students. Academic Advising Today, 44(4). [insert url here]