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The Registrar’s Contribution to Student Success - Identifying At-Risk Students

September 20, 2016

Registrars can leverage the ordering data to identify at-risk students. 

There are many reasons why a student is requesting a transcript.  Often the request is related to the next step of the student’s career, such as applying for employment or graduate school.  But not always.  Often the student may be contemplating leaving the current school to enroll at a different school.  From a student success perspective, the critical issue is knowing if the transfer is in support of the student’s academic goals, or if the current institution is not meeting the needs of the student.

The obvious question is, “Does the ordering process identify the reason for the transcript request?” One traditional approach requires the student to select a reason from a list (i.e. applying to graduate school, employment, loan/scholarship application, etc.)  It would be both uncomfortable and ill-advised to add to such a list a choice of, “my school is not meting my needs and I need to transfer to be successful.”  The student would likely not select such a reason, and school officials may incorrectly conclude they are meeting the needs of all students.

The student success-focused school can be better served by capturing data about both the student requestor and the transcript recipient.  As transcripts are requested, patterns of student performance develop: high achievers/low achievers; certain majors/academic programs; length of enrollment (first-year, forth-year); patterns of changes of major/academic performance, and so on.  From the transcript-recipient perspective: Are the identified schools closer to the student’s home? Are there lower tuition costs? Does that institution enjoy a higher/lower academic reputation? Is it willing to accept completed courses from the current school?

By capturing data from each individual transcript request, this information can be accumulated and analyzed across thousands of transcript requests to identify patterns.  These revealed patterns become a strategic component of the school’s overall student-success initiative by (1) identifying at-risk students (as defined by the school) and, (2) identifying the school-to-school transfer pattern of these students.  Knowing this information enables the school to become proactive in mitigating future student transfers.

Official, Unofficial, or Degree Audit?

These terms matter and have a direct correlation to student success initiatives:

  • Official transcripts, which bear the signature of the registrar and appropriate authenticity features, are typically intended for external audiences. As mentioned earlier, the big-data picture about the student and the designated recipients represents valuable student-success metrics for the school.
  • Unofficial transcripts are typically intended for on-campus consumption; the content is generally identical to the official version, but the “official” aspects such as signature and security features are typically absent. The unofficial transcript may be used for the student’s own use, for academic advising, or for on-campus activities. Many schools intentionally remove some or all personally identifying data from the unofficial version.
  • Degree audit reports are different than transcripts. These reports compare the student’s academic program course requirements against completed and currently enrolled courses. On many campuses, degree audit reports are used as an alternative to the unofficial transcript. Their particular value for student success is the articulation of future enrollment plans for the student and when taken collectively, serves as a future course planning metric for the school.Degree audits can be used in scenario planning by demonstrating the impact of completed courses against alternate academic programs. In other words, it shows if the completed courses “will count” in satisfying the requirements of the new program.

All of these documents can be used as student retention tools by assisting the academic adviser to provide demonstrable advice to the student contemplating a different academic major. 

In the next article, I will discuss the Registrar’s contribution to Competency-Based Records.

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