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How Unified Advising Helps Universities Meet Student Expectations

By June 27, 2019

Cornell students. Image courtesy of Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Photo Credit: Justin James Muir.
Cornell students. Image courtesy of Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Photo Credit: Justin James Muir.

By: Ann LaFave, Director of Student Services, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University

For college administrators, the pressure is real: what are we doing to ensure student success and college completion for students at all types and sizes of institutions? What must we do to ensure students can see the ROI in a college education?

It starts with understanding your college’s or university’s founding mission. Align the support of students with those important societal goals in mind. Showing the ROI of college continues with how colleges and universities are using data to ensure student success while creating exciting ways to help them find opportunities and resources. This is a critical business need that administrators, faculty, and college staff can get behind to leverage support and engagement when students need it most.

Cornell students. Image courtesy of Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Photo Credit: Justin James Muir
Cornell students. Image courtesy of Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Photo Credit: Justin James Muir

Why is this need urgent now? It’s about relevance to a generation of students that have heightened expectations of service. We can’t keep making students jump through hoops to find things, register for classes, make appointments, and read emails that aren’t relevant to them. Technology like Salesforce for Higher Education is about putting in place state-of-the-art tools to improve the student experience. Imagine a new industry where a consultant provides personalized outreach and academic advice using curriculum documents posted on college websites. They’d provide a free service and then make money by selling the data of our students to credit card companies, employers, and retailers. If that happened, the college or university would lose the ability to support or guide a student in their academic pathway toward a degree. We need to remain central to student success to meet their needs providing the greatest return on their college education investment.

At Cornell University, we are beginning to meet the current and future needs of students by developing an advising platform that will, by Fall 2019, be used by all the undergraduate and graduate colleges across the Ithaca campus. It started as a small movement to create community and develop an advising platform within one college at Cornell. Many discussions and demos eventually led to a greater understanding of why we wanted to create a holistic view of the student’s relationship over time with the university (360 View). Eventually, there was agreement that it was going to take more than one college interested in this technology to reach that goal. Now, critical staff and offices will work collaboratively in one space to support all students at Cornell. We will know, for example, if a student follows up on academic referrals and other support advice provided to them from advising staff. We’ll also be able to see the students’ interaction with program advisors – such as study abroad, athletics, and diversity programs.

The critical features of this advising platform will provide data and information to help advisors manage every aspect of outreach and interaction with students over time. We are capturing the engagement of students using Education Cloud in the following ways:

Automation – We have automated student support through an early alert system that encourages faculty to partner with the advising offices. Poor classroom performance can be reported by faculty in their grading system. Within seconds, an automated message is sent to the student with suggestions of resources including a meeting with advising staff to discuss their challenges and options. Final grade outcomes are captured at the end of each semester to analyze the impact of the outreach. Eventually, long-term trends will inform future students of their course choices, including when it might be best to pursue more challenging courses when considering their entire academic pathway.

Community – we are using Salesforce Chatter to connect and answer student questions in a crowdsourced approach. New students find that support is “only a post away” from other students and staff as they transition to campus. Continuing students get the answers they need during busy times of the semester as their questions are quickly answered (and displayed to others) so they can return to their studies or co-curricular commitments. This provides continuous service at any time of the day.

Salesforce Pardot – allows us to create personalized journeys that trigger the right communication at the right time. We no longer blast emails that aren’t relevant to most of the recipients and have minimized the workload of the advisors writing one-off emails when they could be spending more time in person with students.

Mobile – Making the services students need accessible on any device is critical to meeting their needs. Our mobile app puts resources, including online appointment scheduling, and Chatter at their fingertips. Adopting the tools we’ve created is easy when it’s on their mobile device.

Analytics – the sweet reward for Salesforce technology is the use of data to understand trends and take action on the collected information. We can improve our offerings, resources, advising, referrals for support, have instant knowledge of a student’s engagement, and maybe most importantly know when a student is not engaging.

Cornell campus. Image courtesy of Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Photo credit: David Burbank
Cornell campus. Image courtesy of Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Photo credit: David Burbank

Why do these tools matter? We are setting ourselves up for the future. We will better understand the student experience because data collected from these tools will now inform our decisions. Analytics will allow us to look at data to find patterns, solve challenges, and answer the important questions. Ultimately, we want to ensure students are finding success, engaging with their support networks, and pursuing opportunities that will provide them with the career and future they desire. Salesforce technology allows us to do this while also equalizing access to resources for all students. This will help ensure we follow our mission and provide the ROI expected by today’s students and families.

The key to success for this type of digital transformation is to start the conversation around advising, because it’s a common thread. Cornell is a very decentralized university, but through our discussions, we learned that our goals for student success were similar across campus and that our solutions were embedded in many different IT platforms (and spreadsheets). Everyone agreed there had to be a better way to support students through collaboration and technology and Salesforce provided the tools to move us in that direction. If Cornell figured out how to unify our campus through advising, I suspect almost any other college or university can figure it out, too. It’s better for everyone, but most importantly, it’s great for students.

For more on how to better serve students with technology, consider your higher ed mobile strategy. Watch this webinar recording to learn how:

  • Cornell University used Salesforce native community tools to power a mobile, online community for new student onboarding and student services.
  • The University of San Diego developed two iOS native apps USD Kiosk and USD Check-In to provide quick and easy check-in to events and feed data into Salesforce.


About the Author
Ann LaFaveAnn LaFave is Director of Student Services at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). Prior to her current work in student services, she served as a Director of Admissions for CALS. In addition to her work with Cornell, Ann services on the Higher Ed Advisory Council. She holds a B.S. and an MPS from Cornell. Connect with Ann on LinkedIn.