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Back-End Automation Leads to Better Student Service and Institutional Savings

AUDIO | Back-End Automation Leads to Better Student Service and Institutional Savings
By automating some aspects of the heavy lifting faced by academic advisors, their time is freed up to provide customized support to students.
The following interview is with Elizabeth Capaldi Phillips, provost emerita of Arizona State University (ASU). Phillips spearheaded the development and implementation of the eAdvisor system, which revolutionized student advising at the university. In this interview, she discusses the value the eAdvisor system has had in improving the level of service provided by student advisors at ASU, and shares her thoughts on the impact on productivity of the eAdvisor system.

The EvoLLLution: What kinds of tasks dominated the time and resources of the student advising staff prior to the implementation of the eAdvisor system?

Elizabeth Capaldi Phillips (ECP): Advisors had to spend a lot of time on curriculum — what courses should students register for and take each semester to fulfill their requirements. It was particularly complex if a student wasn’t sure what to major in or if a student wanted to change majors. We have more than 290 majors here at ASU, so if a student wanted to change majors, it was a very error-prone process and very difficult for an individual to do that.

What was even harder was to help the student find a major when they’re first starting out, because very few individuals are familiar with all of our majors. For most advisors it’s very hard to be familiar with 290 different majors and what kinds of careers they lead to.

Now, all of the curricular stuff is in the computer, which frees the adviser to talk to the student as an individual.

Evo: With the eAdvisor system, how has their productivity and capacity to serve students at a high-touch level improved?

ECP: It’s a much more personable system and much more focused on success of the student just because there’s more time for that. The advisors are focused more on what people can do with the computers than doing what computers can do. The computer can give an advisor information on all their advisees in the dashboard and can show you exactly where they are and what classes they’re in.

We put in all kinds of other information in there too; are they having financial difficulty? Do they have books late from the library? Have they been logging on to MyASU student portal, which shows that they’re very actively involved?

The advisor at a glance can see which student actually needs help and can direct their attention there instead of having to help all students regardless of need. Before eAdvisor, every student had to see an advisor every semester in order to register.

Evo: When it comes to a cost-benefit analysis of the value of implementing the eAdvisor system, compared to the way advisors were spending their time before, how has the University benefited from implementing eAdvisor?

ECP: It’s benefited the institution as well as the student, just because when every student is in a major and every student is on a path to the degree, the institution knows how many seats are needed in required classes, which is good for the student because we guarantee seats in required classes. It’s good for the institution because we don’t provide seats in classes that don’t get filled. We don’t have classes in room sizes that are wrong. It’s like just-in-time inventory, only, with classes.

Before eAdvisor, a third of our students were in exploratory majors, meaning they were testing out what they wanted to be in. Now only six percent of our students are in exploratory. We have degree searches, which is oriented around the student. You can search for majors connected to people, which for the computer is easy; it’s just like and it’s way more majors than I would ever think of. The students are on a path to success much more quickly now, which saves us offering classes to students they don’t ultimately use. We estimated it saved each student about a year and we estimated it saved us about $6.5 to $7 million in instructional costs, so it helped everybody.

Evo: How is eAdvisor helping student advisors and staff at the university serving students better?

ECP: It helps them because it gives them tools that make their work much more focused on the success of the student. When I was provost at three different universities, one of the most frustrating experiences is to have a student who is ready to graduate and they’re missing a key course and they said, “Well, my advisor told me I didn’t need that course.” It doesn’t happen often but, when it does, there you are — you have a pickle. Now that kind of mistake doesn’t happen because all of the requirements are in the computer.

Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about the positive impact the efficiency brought on by the eAdvisor system has had on ASU, both in terms of the students and the institution?

ECP: The four-year graduation rate is 12 points higher than before we instituted it and it’s particularly dramatic for first-time low-income students who, without a clear path, can often get lost and blame themselves. If they do poorly in a course they think they’re not cut out for college, where, no, it could be that they’re in the wrong major.

The most important job of the advisor is to get the student in a major where they can succeed as soon as possible and eAdvisor helps them do that.

This interview has been edited for length.

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