Teaching, Learning, and Living in the Pandemic Era: Making Higher-Ed More Accessible

Throughout the past year and a half, the world has had to adjust to a new schedule, new restrictions, and new limitations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But this is nothing new for people who have long been dealing with chronic illness or living with disabilities.

Most chronic illnesses present at an older age, but some develop during youth or college years. Estimates as recent as 2014 show that up to 20% of youth have a chronic medical condition and may attend college. A Johns Hopkins University Press research publication stated that,

“data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health indicate that youth with chronic illness are only half as likely to graduate from college as their healthy peers”.

Additionally, it was painfully clear that before the pandemic, students with chronic illness, physical disabilities, or mental health challenges were frequently not provided with sufficient accommodations to help them succeed. A recent study by The Hechinger Report found that

“only one-third of college students with disabilities graduate from four-year institutions within eight years of enrollment, and 41 percent graduate from two-year institutions within the same time frame.”

Although the old model of higher education was not built for students with chronic illness, these students may have been more prepared for uncertain conditions under the pandemic than others. People with chronic illness are used to having to cancel appointments and meetings at the last minute if they are not physically able to attend. They are used to catching up on schoolwork from home and self-teaching. In this, we can learn a lot from their experience about the resilience and flexibility required to manage higher education with a chronic illness.

Featured in USA Today, Annie Tulkin, founder, and director of Accessible College, stated,

“now that students have taken online classes, the question that remains is ‘can you request online classes’ as a reasonable accommodation across the board”.

At SightLine, we know that universities and students can learn from the COVID pandemic that sometimes health issues arise and that is nothing to feel guilty about. Students with chronic illness have already developed a unique set of skills and resilience which universities are catching up to. This learning can be incorporated into how universities provide education and support.

Based on the data analysis at the heart of our approach to higher education strategy, higher education in the past has put too much emphasis on the need to show up to class. For many students with chronic illness or other challenges, such as being a single parent, grades driven by attendance is a major setback. This system is not conducive to different students with varying needs.

The emphasis on needing to be physically present has huge implications for student success and retention initiatives. There is a big opportunity for higher education to learn and adapt in the time of COVID.

Higher education has also been sold on the idea that student success is synonymous with large software solutions that track student attendance, how often they log in to their learning management systems, and even tracking how often students go to the library. For a single parent, going to the library daily is likely not a high priority. They study at home late at night after getting the kids to bed. A non-traditional student is probably working harder than a traditional student, but the student success software puts up a red flag because they are not engaged on campus, or they do not go to the library as often as other students. That single parent gets an automated email from these software solutions, with good intentions, but now that student has additional stress that they are not living up to the institution’s expectations.

Everyone learns differently and everyone has different needs. There is not a one-size fits all student success solution. There must be a collaborative effort between the student success teams to identify at-risk students and professors, employers, advisors, or other campus leaders who have an existing relationship with those students. Getting email or text ‘nudges’ for missing class, is generally not an universally effective approach for all types of students.

“Early-warning systems have worked at some colleges his company studied. But at others, the nudges had an “almost double-digit negative impact”,

stated co-founder and CEO of Civitas Learning, Mark Milliron.

To combat this effect, the SightLine team has been focusing on student centric education solutions. We have developed multiple long term student retention models. Preliminary results show that we can predict student success on a semester-to-semester basis, with equal or even better accuracy than the short-term daily models that are popular with student success software.

Approximately 86% of the students that our predictive models identify as being at-risk of dropping out over the next year, do drop out if no intervention is applied. This indicates that tracking who is going to class each day, or who is going to the library, may not be the most important predictor of retention. We are assessing other variables such as student on-campus employment, financial aid and expected family contribution, previous semester’s academic performance, and progress towards completing their degree.

This gives university leaders the opportunity to work with students on a long-term basis. When students are identified as being at-risk of dropping out over the course of the next year, we can focus on more in-depth interventions than emails and text messages that are retroactively identifying students who are missing class or failed a midterm exam.

The goal is to build long-term relationships with these students or leverage existing relationships that they have on campus and get down to the root of the challenge for that student.

Small and medium-sized institutions that may not have funds or resources to implement large student success analytics platforms, but they have a leg up when it comes to student retention. They generally have good faculty-to-student ratios, and many student relationships are already in place naturally. There are solutions for much more lightweight predictive analytics to identify at-risk students, and the key is creating interventions that fit the needs of the student. The answer is not always to make sure the student has a stellar attendance record.

Those of us with chronic illness or other significant challenges know that there is more than one way to meet your goals. Hopefully COVID has inspired higher-ed to explore some new options to support students as we are inspired at SightLine.

Originally published at https://sightlinedata.com.

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SightLine | EdTech Data Scientist | Founder www.SightLineData.com

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SightLine - Predictive Analytics for Higher-Ed

SightLine - Predictive Analytics for Higher-Ed

SightLine | EdTech Data Scientist | Founder www.SightLineData.com

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