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South Arkansas Community College Implements Starfish to Foster Faculty and Advisor Communication for Greater Student Success

Institution Extends Value of Blackboard to Improve Student Retention

Starfish Star LogoArlington, VA – Sept. 2, 2009 — Starfish Retention Solutions, Inc., a leading provider of student success systems, announced today that South Arkansas Community College (SouthArk) has selected Starfish® to accelerate the identification of at-risk students and facilitate communication between faculty and advisors who are working to ensure that students are successful.

Established in 1992, SouthArk is a public two-year institution with an open-door policy, providing educational programs and services to a diverse population from across the Delta region. The college enrolls nearly 1,300 students, offering courses and programs ranging from Adult Basic Education and General Educational Development (GED) to advanced academic transfer and workforce education.

In 2007, Murphy Oil Corp., based in El Dorado, Ark. (the hometown of SouthArk), introduced El Dorado Promise, a scholarship program that pays for all El Dorado High School graduates who have been at the school since at least the ninth grade to attend any college in the country. SouthArk has become one the largest recipients of El Dorado Promise students and has had record enrollment increases.

“With El Dorado Promise, students in the area are realizing that their dreams can now happen, which is really exciting,” said Cathy Harrell, academic advisor for SouthArk. “We are just starting to see the first wave of these students come into the college classroom. At the same time, we are now seeing a lot of students who aren’t as prepared for college-level material, particularly with their reading, writing and study skills. We want to make sure that these students achieve their goals.”

To meet this challenge head-on, the institution has sought to empower its faculty and advising staff by providing tools that monitor and communicate a student’s performance. As a result, SouthArk adopted Starfish to enable faculty and advisors to easily inform each other of any student concerns they have and then manage the follow-on intervention process.

Faculty and advisors access Starfish through a link in Blackboard, the institution’s course management system. From there, they can easily raise a flag about a student, invite the student to schedule an appointment or direct the student to the appropriate support resources. They are also able to keep notes about their interactions with the student and to share these securely with other faculty and advisors.

“The key to successfully introducing any new process is making it easy. Easy to access and easy to use. Starfish meets these criteria by being right inside Blackboard – right where faculty are every day,” said Terry Patterson, director of distance education for SouthArk. “If, for example, an instructor learns that a student is concerned about finding daycare, we want the instructor to be able to quickly communicate this to the advising staff. An advisor is best positioned to help the student overcome the challenge and remain in school. Starfish makes this communications process simple.”

SouthArk is using the Starfish system to track key indicators of at-risk students. Specifically, when a student is absent for a few days, a faculty member can raise a flag that immediately notifies the academic advisor and retention coordinator. They can also use the system to communicate when a possible student-life interference (e.g., a transportation problem) is identified or if a student presents signs of having the potential to inflict self-harm or to harm others. In addition, the system will automatically communicate concerns when a student’s grade average drops below a C.

“Our previous process for tracking repeat absences required that faculty members complete a form in triplicate and send it through interoffice mail to the admissions office, who put the notice into the system, which auto-generated a letter to the student,” said Patterson. “By the time this process took place, the student was often so far behind that it was difficult for us to get him or her re-engaged in the classroom. With Starfish, this process happens almost instantaneously.”

Accessible with a single log-in to an institution’s course management system (e.g., Blackboard, WebCT or Angel), Starfish EARLY ALERT™ is an early warning and student tracking system that makes it possible for instructors, advisors and academic staff to identify at-risk students in real time. Starfish CONNECT™, an education networking support system, helps students access a personal contact list of instructors, advisors and counselors who are dedicated to helping them succeed. Together, the systems generate valuable performance data for the institution, including resource utilization, that helps optimize future service offerings.

“Starfish Retention Solutions is pleased to be working with South Arkansas Community College,” said David Yaskin, CEO and founder of Starfish Retention Solutions. “While every institution is unique, the challenges facing SouthArk are certainly shared by a number of community colleges across the country. Expanding enrollments. Fewer resources. Less-prepared student population. Having the ability to place powerful yet easy-to-use tools in the hands of faculty and advisors to help students be successful is a significant strategic advantage for SouthArk. Starfish is honored to play a role in its commitment to student success.”

About Starfish Retention Solutions

Starfish Retention Solutions is a leading provider of student success systems. The company offers a collection of software solutions that harness the power of the campus community in order to engage, motivate and graduate more students — securing valuable tuition revenue through student retention. Specifically, the solutions help institutions identify at-risk students in real time, based on their daily course work performance and faculty concerns, and then connect them to the resources designed to help (e.g., advising or tutoring), all while assessing which services and interventions are working. For more information, please call 703.260.1186 or visit


John Plunkett
Vice President, Marketing & Operations