How Columbia School of Professional Studies boosted advising efficiency while paving the way for long-term degree planning

Executive Summary

Looking to provide students with greater clarity and confidence on their long-term path to success, Columbia University School of Professional Studies adopted Stellic. In doing so, they were able to not only achieve their initial goals of improving the way students map out their degrees, but also increase proactivity and efficiency across the advising office along the way. Now, each student has a clear roadmap to graduation, advisors are able to have more transformative conversations with their students, and students who may be off track are identified early on.

“I look at success as putting the student’s best interest first, and sitting down and making a roadmap to graduation. Stellic makes it really easy to make that happen.” - Bernadette McHugh, Executive Director of Advising and Academic Support, Columbia SPS

The Challenges

Columbia’s School of Professional Studies prides itself on its flexible, market-responsive programs and offers 19 different master’s degrees and certificates online, part-time, and full-time. For the advising office, tracking their many degrees and certificates was a manual and time-consuming process. This made it difficult to build out long-term plans that accurately reflected students’ academic progress, and challenging to fit in last-minute requirements, study abroad, and other opportunities ahead of graduation.

The Solution

Knowing that student commitment to educational goals is one of the strongest factors associated with degree completion, Columbia SPS’s Advising Director, Bernadette McHugh, turned to Stellic. The platform would provide students with an interactive avenue to plan out their academic journey, decrease time-to-audit, and give advisors the birds-eye views they needed to shift from transactional to holistic advising. This would give them more capacity to focus less on the day-to-day course requirements and more on students’ long term goals.

“It was painful to do long term planning so there was the urge to just focus on the reactive next term planning. Stellic has shifted that. That is the difference between transactional advising and holistic developmental advising – proactively talking to students before a problem arises.” - Bernadette McHugh

Stellic empowered advisors to facilitate in-depth conversations about the material students were interested in, and explain how students’ academic choices and courses would enable them to achieve their goals over time. Establishing a rapport early on would show students that advisors deeply care about their success, building trust in their advisor’s ability to help them overcome challenges when they arise.

“Now, our advisors bring up a student’s degree audit during every single meeting. It doesn’t just remind you who the student is, it shows you what they’ve taken, their goals, and where they’re headed. And it helps you catch when a student is taking something wrong or is really interested in a subject they aren’t majoring in. It serves as a backbone for deeper conversations and helps you get to know what students aren’t always telling you.” - Bernadette McHugh

The Results

Eager to explore the platform, students now dive into Stellic head-first. They can easily map out their courses and non-course requirements, track their progress, and discuss upcoming plans with their advisors - all in one place. Students can also personalize their schedule based on any work or personal commitments they’re trying to balance out with school, and can identify alternate or quicker paths to graduation. Others who want more hands-on advising can self-identify by requesting advising meetings through Stellic.

“Using Stellic in graduate school made my auditing and class planning experience much, much easier. The kind of control it provides over my schedule is unmatched. I'm completing my masters program in one year and I'm able to do this primarily because of the organization that Stellic provides as well as the support from my advisor.” Sustainability & Management Student, Columbia SPS

Columbia SPS advisors have integrated Stellic into their routine. When it comes to handling degree and graduation audits, they’ve reduced their time from 40 hours to 4 hours. Besides saving time, front-loading this work gets advisors acquainted with new students and reacquainted with old ones, preventing any minor issues from getting out of hand.

The Columbia SPS finance team has also benefitted from Stellic, using the tool to better forecast and meet demand. Reviewing credits in students’ plans early in the year helps them prepare for future busy semesters and lock in the appropriate instructors in advance.

“Our finance team often does projections for student enrollment full-time versus part-time and expected credits. Before, we could only tell them anecdotes. But with Stellic, we can go into analytics and have the numbers to back us up.” - Bernadette McHugh

But perhaps most critical to facilitating greater student support, Stellic helped lay the foundation for holistic advising at Columbia SPS. Before Stellic, advisors were confined to putting out fires. Today, advisors engage with students on a deeper level early in their time at Columbia, using Stellic’s comprehensive view to see where students came from, where they’re headed, and what they’re interested in. Developing a degree plan around those variables and building a personal relationship with students encourages them to have faith in their degree plan and follow through on their commitments. 

McHugh and the rest of the Columbia SPS advising team continue to find new ways to leverage Stellic to empower their students and provide high-quality, effective academic advising 一 what they’ve realized firsthand is an extremely critical factor in student success.

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