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Lori Richard, Nicholls State University

Lori Richard.jpgBackground

For nearly the last decade, Nicholls State University, a mid-sized, regional, NCAA Division I institution, has been underfunded and understaffed in our athletics department; yet, its athletics team’s NCAA Graduation Success Rate has been consistently in the top one or two spots amongst in-state conference institutions. This success rate generated inquiry into the strategies used by a severely understaffed athletics department. In our athletics department, in fact, in terms of athletic academic services, our program has only one academic advisor on staff and has no academic center for student-athletes.

However, due to the nature of academic eligibility in NCAA Division I programs, our athletics department has to maintain constant vigilance to know and understand, at all times, what is happening (or not happening) with student-athletes in the classroom. Athletics departments across the country are adding more and more support staff, such as academic coaches, in-house tutors, and note takers—even mental health counselors—in order to provide every available resource for student success. How has Nicholls, with its small staff and budget, been able to maintain its current level of academic success?

Utilizing Data and Intrusive Advising

One important, campus-wide tool utilized by the athletics department is the campus’ enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, an administrative software application that stores university data such as student data (contact information, grades, GPA, transcripts, etc.), course information, and much more. From this ERP system, pertinent student data can be gathered into a data reporting software program that is viewed in a spreadsheet format. By accessing available student data stored in the ERP system, the department was then able to share with the coaching staff important and time-sensitive information at critical and relevant points in the semester. 

In an effort to replicate the athletics department success, an initiative began to implement this strategy within an academic college, where data points were accessed and then reported to department chairs and faculty advisors to provide relevant data for a more intrusive advising approach with students who appear on these lists. Earl (1988) defined intrusive advising as a deliberate student intervention once a student shows signs of academic difficulty. He more specifically states “intrusive advising utilizes the systematic skills of prescriptive advising while helping to solve the major problem of developmental advising which is a student’s reluctance to self-refer” (p. 28). By accessing at-risk student indicators (Table 1) found in key data points stored on the students’ record, faculty advisors can use this concrete evidence of a student’s progression (or lack thereof) through their programs and subsequently intervene when necessary.

Reports can include traditional at-risk student indicators, such as mid-semester grades, final grades, grade point average, and academic standing (good standing, probation, and suspension). In addition, our athletics department was accessing several non-traditional data points that were indicators of a student’s desire or ability to return for another semester. Examples of these data points include things that students may interpret as hurdles to their success, such as registration holds on their records, excessive fee bill balances, or lack of scheduled meetings with their advisors.

Table 1

At-Risk Student Indicators

Traditional data sets:

Non-traditional data sets:

  • Mid-semester grades
  • Final grades
  • GPA
  • Academic standing (good standing, probation, suspension)
  • Registration holds
  • Fee bill balance
  • Advising behavior



When to Intervene

Timing of advising intervention has also been important to the athletics staff, and now, faculty advisors.  For example, equipping advisors with students’ mid-term grade reports equips them to swiftly intervene before the university’s withdrawal deadline. Such reports also provide advisors the ability to refer struggling students who are committed to remain enrolled in a tough class to campus tutoring services. The mid-term GPA information gives a good talking point for faculty advisors and coaches who are working with students who have been placed on academic probation. Such information assists advisors in forecasting students’ potential academic status at the end of term, thus allowing opportunities for praise and/or encouragement.

Another timely report is a registration hold report which comes out three weeks before registration opens. This report enables advisors to help students overcome problems which may prevent them from registering for the upcoming terms with their cohort. Often, students may be unaware that a registration hold has been placed on their record until they attempt to register. By seeking out these students and notifying them early, advisors are able to reduce students’ frustration and anxiety when classes begin to fill while their registration access is blocked. One example of a registration hold that our institution records is an outstanding fee balance.  When accessing this hold information, advisors are able to contact and refer students to resources that will help them set up payment plans or potentially access previously unidentified financial aid resources in hopes to clear balances and remove holds before registration begins.

Some registration holds can be confusing or intimidating for students. Because advisors are trained to understand what these holds mean and how to clear them, they are able to walk students through the process of resolving them in a timely manner. Taking the time to counsel students in clearing registration holds is one of many ways advisors contribute to retention of students.

Examples of registration holds on our campus that students sometimes find confusing or intimidating to resolve are the following:

  • Submit an admissions document: provide proof of immunization, high school transcript, test scores, etc.;
  • Contact academic or student affairs: typically used with the judicial process;
  • Submit a records document: sometimes issued when needing an updated transcript from a student who took a summer class elsewhere;
  • Pay an outstanding fee bill balance: indicates an outstanding financial debt to the institution, which can feel like defeat for a student who has no means to pay the balance;
  • Make an advising appointment: this hold indicates students who have not met with their advisor, which can indicate that the student is confused about the university advising process or may not be fully committed to returning for another semester.

Replicating and Customizing Data Reports for Your Campus

An important point to make is that all of the data that has been historically accessed by the athletics department, and now faculty advisors, is not provided by a fancy software package. It is extracted from the university’s databases through software that our information technology department purchased for their own use. While fancy software is great, extracting readily available student data has been instrumental in identifying at-risk students with little impact on the budget and allowing us to customize reports to our specific needs.

Examples of data points that can help customize at-risk reports include the following:

  • Major, minor, concentration, advisor information;
  • First-generation students and other special population coding, like student-athletes, honors students, etc.;
  • Student classification, like first-year status;
  • GPA and academic standing on mid-term or final grade reports;
  • Contact information including email addresses and phone numbers; and
  • Students who failed 50% or more of their courses, categorized by discipline and semester.                                               

The report possibilities will be limited only to the data that a university does not collect or, perhaps, store on its server. In addition, for this project to work, it is helpful to designate one person to design and extract reports from databases before passing on the information to department chairs, who may then disseminate reports to faculty or professional advisors in their area. Allowing individual academic units to request reports could quickly overwhelm a university’s staff and resources. Having one designated person charged with designing reports and disseminating information helps the system to be efficient and reduce duplicate report requests. 

Lori Richard, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Interdisciplinary Studies
Nicholls State University
[email protected]


Earl, W. R. (1988). Intrusive advising of freshmen in academic difficulty. NACADA Journal, 8(2), 27–33. https://doi.org/10.12930/0271-9517-8.2.27

Cite this article using APA style as: Richard, L. (2019, September). No fancy software needed: Using existing institutional data to identify at-risk students. Academic Advising Today, 42(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]


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