Jacksonville University

Innovating with the goal of putting students first
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As part of enhancing the student experience, Jacksonville University looked at what that would mean for their students who had left but never finished.

students outside walking on campus

When Tim Cost became the President of Jacksonville University, he brought a clear focus: putting students first. As a JU alum, it was important to Cost that all JU students would have the same kind of transformative college experience that he did. 

As part of the vision to prioritize the student experience, faculty and staff began looking for opportunities to innovate that would ultimately be good for students. In reviewing student completion data, JU administrators discovered an opportunity in early 2020. 

Dr. Will Miller serves as JU’s Executive Director of Institutional Analytics, Effectiveness, and Strategic Planning and describes what they found: “When we looked at our completers, we saw our graduation rates were moving in the right direction. However, we noticed that we have this dichotomy in our graduation data. For any student that has graduated in the last four years, their average time to completion is 3.4 years. So if you graduate, on average, you graduate early. But then we noticed that among those who did not graduate, there was a significant percentage of stopout students with an enrollment duration upwards of 6-7 years, yet they still didn’t finish.” 

Seeing the potential with a partnership

The more they thought about these students, the more they realized that this was a segment of their population with great potential for impact. Miller explains: “When we were talking about opportunities for enhancing the student experience, looking for students that had experienced perhaps a different JU, we recognized there was a lot we could probably do to serve this population of students that had left and not ever finished.” 

With a clear sense of who they wanted to help, the conversation moved to the tactical: what could they do for these students? 

Miller described the challenge: “We identified that this was a group we wanted, but we were not in a position to go out and hire a team of success coaches to help them. When we started to really think about it, from a staffing angle, we didn’t know how successful it would be, we didn’t know what it would take, and we didn’t know how we would best contact these students. So for us, the challenge was, how do we approach this? What’s the technology? How do you have these conversations? What are the types of things students are going to ask?”

These questions led JU to explore the possibility of partnership with ReUp Education. Given JU’s focus on maintaining the highest standard of student experience, there was concern about whether a third-party organization would be able to deliver the same level of high-quality student interaction that JU demands of itself. 

The JU team asked ReUp to provide evidence in the form of sample audio from real ReUp coaching conversations. As they listened, they got their answer. “We could tell from the recording, that ReUp Success Coaches really care about these students. That’s what we needed to hear.” Miller said.

After moving forward in partnership with ReUp, the experience of personally working with JU’s actual ReUp coaches has aligned with JU’s expectations. “I trust our ReUp Success Coaches to know the answers,” Miller added “and I don’t worry about them bringing back somebody who can’t be successful, because of the way the Success Coaches make sure they are truly ready to come back.” 

dolpin statue on campus

Supporting students throughout their journey–no matter how long it takes

For JU, it has not only been the quality of interaction that makes a difference, but also the model for how the coaching is integrated into the student’s journey. ReUp’s coaching model is not just designed to help students re-enroll, but also continues to support them all the way until they complete their degree. Miller explained: “For a lot of these students, continuity is the problem. They need a consistent person. The ReUp Success Coach fills that role for them. Their Success Coach sticks with them.” 

One example is a JU stopped out student who worked with her ReUp coach over a seven-month period to return. During this time, the student had dozens of written text and email exchanges with her coach and ten phone conversations. She shares her story: 

“While I was at school, there were times where I felt like I was drowning in assignments. I often procrastinated, or didn’t have the motivation to do assignments and study. I decided to leave school for a bit because the stress was overwhelming and there were things that failed to be worked out in a timely manner. Working with a Success Coach made my journey back to school easy, and rewarding. At any turn when I run into a problem I just reach out to via text and she’s on it. Getting me the right person to talk to, or helping me come up with a solution to the problem. She’s not only a problem solver, but also a listening ear, and guide. In conversation we talked about challenges I’ve faced in the past and how I previously dealt with them. To know if I face that same thing how will I deal with it moving forward. Anything you may want to talk about she is willing. Getting this degree means I will finish this journey I started 4 ½ years ago. I can move into my career field whether that’s being an air traffic controller, or starting a business of my own. I know I will have not been able to complete this journey without the help of a Success Coach.”

After just two term starts (one summer and one fall), the partnership has been leading to results. Readmission applications are up 250% from the previous year. Sixteen students close to finishing have completed their final requirements to graduate.

These results were generated without any upfront cost to JU. With ReUp’s partnership model, the institution is only invoiced after ReUp achieves positive student outcomes. Miller describes how this aligns with their student-centric approach: “With the structure ReUp uses, it really does work so that ReUp has a vested interest in the students.” 

Miller believes seeing results so quickly would not have been possible if they had to build a stopout program from scratch. “Knowing that ReUp works with other schools is helpful because they can better anticipate some of these hurdles and roadblocks in a way that we would have learned as we went, which would have impacted our timing to see results.”

Data and insights that lead to change

In addition to impacting students, Miller outlined another objective of the partnership: to get a better understanding of what factors drive stopouts and how they could be served better. “We do the traditional exit survey, students rarely respond. When they do respond, there’s no way to know if that is the actual explanation or is that just the top line reason that you’re thinking about that’s easy to say to us but there’s more to the story. ReUp’s reporting gives us a more complete picture of why students left, what motivates them to want to return, and what obstacles they are working through. Now (we are) seeing some of the barriers we didn’t even know were there, which is allowing us to take a more critical look at re-design.” 

ReUp’s reporting gives us a more complete picture of why students left, what motivates them to want to return, and what obstacles they are working through.”

— Dr. Will Miller

Executive Director of Institutional Analytics, Effectiveness, and Strategic Planning

An example of an early quick win brought to light in conversations with ReUp was upgrading the re-enrollment page on the JU website. Miller explained, “We didn’t have a whole lot on our re-enrollment page, and ReUp told us, ‘you don’t have a whole lot on there,’ so our response was basically, tell us what you want on it. Now that we’re thinking about it more from the perspective of a potential re-enrolling student, we see how having the right content demonstrates our intentionality.” 

Looking ahead, Miller is excited to continue learning how they can improve the student experience: “As ReUp starts to work with our more recent stopouts, we are interested in seeing if their reasons for leaving and the support that they need are different than students who have been gone longer. Do they have different concerns? Do they need a different process? We expect this information will continue to help us do good things for students.”

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ReUp Education is revolutionizing the enrollment to graduation journey for all adults seeking higher education. Built upon the belief that with the right support, resources, and people in your corner, anything is possible we partner with future-facing institutions and state systems to bring equitable success in higher ed to all. 

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