Student privilege fee for academic advising discussed at meeting

Steven Dandaneau, vice provost for undergraduate studies, speaks about a fee proposal that would be used to improve academic advising during the tuition and fees committee meeting on March 8, 2016. (Emily Starkey | The Collegian)

A $350,000 K-State student fee proposal for improving undergraduate academic advising was discussed at the Tuition and Fees Strategies Committee meeting on Tuesday. Steven Dandaneau, vice provost for undergraduate studies, spoke with the committee on how the fee would be used.

The fee would be $0.70 per credit hour, which would generate $350,000 per year, according to the fee proposal application. It would only affect the approximately 20,000 undergraduate students, and would apply to all the K-State campuses.

Dandaneau said the fee would be used for three purposes. The first would be to purchase a new technology that would make advisers’ jobs easier and more efficient, while the second would stabilize funding for professional development activities. Third, a new director of university advising position would be created.

The technology, which Dandaneau said was called “Grades First,” was made by the Education Advisory Board Company. According to the proposal, the annual contract would be $175,000.

It would be used to integrate various aspects of K-State programs, such as KSIS and Outlook, to help facilitate communication among people to coordinate support for students, according to Dandaneau.

Dandaneau said academic advisers within K-State Athletics have already started using the system.

“They’re thrilled,” Dandaneau said. “They’ve seen improvement in grades and number of credit hours obtained, the kind of measures of student success that we would all generally regard as valid. They’ve seen just in six months of using this tool significant increases in our student athletes’ already high student success.”

The technology, Dandaneau said, cuts down on busywork and allows more time for advisers to work individually with students. The technology will not replace advisers; instead it will help them do their jobs more efficiently.

Data analysis is part of what make the technology so valuable, Dandaneau said. The data would be analyzed through a logarithm, and the results would be used to make concrete change. The data would be used to determine key requirements for graduation probability.

“If you do this, this and this, what’s your chances of graduating in that major?” Dandaneau said.

Dandaneau said the data analysis is helpful in determining what is important to a student’s graduation. Sometimes professors and department heads may assume what is key for a student’s success, Dandaneau said, but the data show other factors actually have a greater influence.

“In the College of Business, they found that every single department head was surveyed about what was the most important classes in their majors that determined student success, and they were all wrong,” Dandaneau said. “Sometimes they were wildly inaccurate.”

Dandaneau said the technology will help advisers be proactive in helping students succeed.

“We believe it’s going to make a big difference,” Dandaneau said. “It’s really going to pay off. It’s a little bit of a complicated causal mechanism, but this will really result in higher retention, and, most importantly, increased graduation rates. That’s what this is about.”

Dandaneau said Georgia State University’s graduation rates have increased by 10 percentage points since implementing the use of the technology and utilizing the data analysis. K-State’s graduation rate is 60 percent, Dandaneau said.

“(Georgia State) went from having their graduation in a basketball arena to a football arena because they’ve seen such growth,” Dandaneau said.

People should not assume the results at Georgia State and other universities would be a perfect indication of what to expect if K-State utilizes the technology, Dandaneau said. The University of Kansas and Wichita State University are already using this technology, he said.

“It’s always different in each location,” Dandaneau said. “That’s the thing about higher education. Every institution is always unique, truly. You can learn from others, you can make comparisons, but you have to see it work in your institution really.”

Fred Guzek, committee member, Faculty Senate president and professor of business at K-State Polytechnic, said data analysis will help make advising more efficient.

“This is higher (education) moving into the 21st century in terms of the use of data analytics to better manage our institutional relationship with our primary customers, which are the students,” Guzek said.

Dandaneau, in response to a question from Candice Wilson, committee member and graduate student in agricultural economics, said a student forum was never held, but in retrospect it might have been a good idea. There was discussion with representatives of the Student Governing Association, however.

According to the fee proposal application, SGA leaders had some concerns regarding the fee.

“SGA leaders do not think that the privilege fee is the appropriate source for academic support because … academic advising is not … a ‘privilege,’ but a fundamental component of the university’s undergraduate program,” the application said.

Dandaneau said he hopes for increased student input as the fee implementation process continues.

“How we use (the data provided by the technology) and how we implement these tools will need a lot of student input, and I agree with you about that,” Dandaneau said. “Because it can be done right and it can be done wrong, and it can be done effectively and I think ineffectively. My feeling is we will do it a lot better if we have everyone’s input.”

Dandaneau said there will be ethical concerns concerning the data collected by the technology, including questions of who has access to the data.

Trenton Kennedy, committee member, SGA senator, student body vice president-elect and sophomore in entrepreneurship, asked Dandaneau what the job of the director would entail.

Dandaneau said the applicant would be expected to have a master’s degree and considerable experience. The salary would be $60,000-70,000 plus fringe benefits. Additional money would be spent on graduate assistants or undergraduate staff.

According to the fee proposal, $150,000 of the $350,000 generated annually by the fee would be used on the director of university advising office, including the director’s salary as well as office operations.

The director would report to Dandaneau. The role of the director would be to consult and support academic advisers throughout the university as well as facilitate collaboration and communication among the various colleges’ advisers.

Kurt Lockwood, committee co-chair, SGA speaker of the senate and senior in agricultural economics, said the colleges conduct advising in a variety of ways and asked Dandaneau how the proposal would impact the system.

“No one’s suggesting that we should have some standardized or uniform approach to advising … we’re seeing that the colleges are kind of like states versus the United States,” Dandaneau said. “They’re centers for experimentation.”

April Mason, committee member, provost and senior vice president, said the fee proposal should not be interpreted as casting doubt on the competencies of current advisers.

“There is an expectation that our advisers do a good job,” Mason said. “This is a tool to help them do an even better job. We’re not saying our advisers aren’t doing a good job so we have to buy them this technology.”

Mason said the technology will help advisers improve their work with individual students.

“What Dr. Dandaneau’s talking about is giving our advisers the tools to make them even more effective to deal with you as a student, not broad scope,” Mason said. “It would be you as an individual student.”

Stephen Kucera, committee member, SGA senator and senior in music performance and accounting, asked if there were other possible sources of funding.

Dandaneau said tuition could not be used because of the tuition cap from the Kansas Legislature and Board of Regents. Mason said other stresses to the system prevented the use of tuition in place of this fee proposal. Those stresses included the new chilled water plant, decreased enrollment and the higher education cut from Gov. Sam Brownback.

“In this immediate environment, asking for new fees seems to be the most available means of raising urgently needed resources,” Dandaneau said.

Philanthropists would also be unlikely to support something “so core to the proper functioning of the basic purpose of the institution,” Dandaneau said.

The university negotiated with the company that owns the technology to get a good deal, Dandaneau said. The result was the first 18 months free, which Dandaneau said was about a $180,000 value.

“They were persistent,” Dandaneau said. “They wanted K-State to be a part of this network, I think because they really appreciated that we’re a school that cares a lot about student success, and they saw value in that.”

Dandaneau said the fee is needed to improve academic advising.

“We need investment of new resources into this area,” Dandaneau said. “It’s already pretty bare-bones.”

Dandaneau said he understood that students would probably not like the added cost of attendance.

“No one likes to increase the cost, absolutely not,” Dandaneau said. “But if we feel it’s going to result in an extraordinary increase in value … it’s more of an investment, or return on investment.”

College is worth the cost, but only if you graduate, and good advising is important for graduation, Dandaneau said.

“When you come and pay a lot of money to come to K-State, I think you should expect the very best of us in this regard and in other regards,” Dandaneau said. “And what’s at stake is so important: it’s the future of our students.”

Dandaneau said the purpose of the fee proposal is to help students succeed.

“This is what we care about,” Dandaneau said. “This investment goes to the core of what we’re about, which is student success. Period. It’s all going to go to that. This is not wasted money.”

Jason Tidd graduated from Kansas State University's Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communication in May 2017. He was the spring 2017 editor-in-chief, fall 2016 news editor and spring 2016 assistant news editor. While at K-State, Jason played baritone in the Pride of Wildcat Land marching band.