Skip to main content




November 8, 2013
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab

'Early Alert' helps students focus

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Slippery Rock University faculty have a new tool in their teaching toolbox designed to provide early warnings about a student who may be having academic or related-issue difficulties - and early indications are it is already paying rewards.

"This is a program endorsed by Provost [Philip] Way," said George McDowell, recruitment and retention strategist and veterans services coordinator in the Office of Enrollment Services. "The online system makes use of our Banner Student Information system by offering software that allows faculty seeing a potential problem with a student to report it to our office so some early interventions can be implemented that will help get the student back on track."

McDowell said the program, which is part of SRU's initial BSI package, was rolled out early this semester, but faculty became more involved when they saw the online link while posting mid-term grades.

"The 'Early Alert' button was right there, and they took a look, and apparently liked what they saw. We have seen reports gradually increasing, and we believe we have been able to help students who may have been having difficulties in a wide range of areas," McDowell said.

By the end of October, 77 members of SRU's faculty had reported from 146 classes about issues involving 394 students.

The faculty member's submissions are anonymous, but allow them to report online that a student is missing classes, consistently tardy or exhibiting sporadic attendance; having trouble, or being disrupted in class or with the course material; possibly in need of tutoring; or having other difficulties.

The information reported remains between the Office of Retention Services, appropriate service areas on campus, and the student. No information from the report is shared with parents.

"In addition to a number of simple items to click, faculty members can also offer comments should they learn a student is having financial problems or emotional difficulties that might be affecting their academic work," McDowell said.

"Once the Retention Office has been notified of a potential problem, we can email the student directly to help them with a situation before it expands, or we can alert a campus service, such as financial aid, Student Life, Residence Life, the Tutoring Center or the Counseling Center so that they can contact the student to offer services and help," he said.

"We can also suggest to the student they meet with a specific professor to discuss their academic standing or with their academic adviser to help them better understand any issues," he said.

"The overall goal, of course, is to help the student be successful. Sometimes it is just a matter of reminding them they need to take their course work more seriously. In other cases, it might involve having the student develop a better plan for getting their work done on time and focusing on their academic work," McDowell said.

He credited the University faculty for quickly adopting the new program.

"Many of our faculty spent time last summer reviewing how the Early Alert system could be implemented and in working with fellow faculty to understand its capabilities."

"When we admit a student to SRU, we are confident that they can meet the academic rigors of our University. Sometimes, we just have to tweak a student into meeting their potential," he said.

SRU's academic retention rate improved from 70 percent in 2006, to 82 percent at the end of the 2012 academic year.

"Our retention numbers are important. We want students to enroll, then graduate and we want to provide every opportunity for them to be successful. We think this system is another way to provide help they may need," McDowell said.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.