Rachel Phillips Buck, Vice-President for Student Success
With each passing year, universities are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain good fit students. The numbers indicate that 1 out of 3 first-year students are unlikely to return for their sophomore year. The reason for a university’s low retention rate, and the factors impacting a student’s success are a complex puzzle without a straightforward solution. While students are faced with financial difficulties, trouble at home, or other personal issues, the universities, too, are struggling to cope with competition from online colleges and virtual learning environments.
Surely, there is no magic wand to improve the retention rate. A change in approach is a good start.
Meet Pharos Resources, LLC, an EdTech company that has transformed the traditional approach to student retention. Redefining retention to emphasize the importance of relationships, they partner with their schools to provide Relational Retention. Pharos Resources believes that a student success is directly related to the relationships students share with their friends, family, and the community at the institution. As such, the onus is on the university to foster a community where students “feel seen” and receive assistance from a team that is deeply invested in their lives. Through its groundbreaking, Relational Retention approach, Pharos Resources sows the seeds for a student’s touchpoint relationship to motivate students to succeed and gives universities the resources to cultivate a culture focused on student care. It’s a two-way street, after all.
Unlike most higher education software companies that essentially ‘sell software, and wish the university the best of luck,’ Pharos Resources is in the trenches with its clients and constantly develops new approaches and practices to serve as an extension of the campus.
Pre-Identifying At-Risk Students
The core ingredient of every Pharos Resources solution is equipping universities with predictive intelligence to spot “at-risk students” ahead of time and then leveraging the existing relationships (that students share with coaches, counselors, etc.) to guide students to appropriate resources. This ensures they have constant access to support services and do not feel helpless during their life difficulties—academic or otherwise.
Based on its hallmark concept of Relational Retention, the company has developed Pharos 360, a software platform that combines supportive connections with strategic intervention to help guide each student to success. “We have created our platform so that students feel seen and realize that there are people on their team who are eager to help them,” remarks Rachel Phillips-Buck, Vice President for Student Success and Senior Consultant at Pharos Resources.
Pharos 360 integrates with existing student information and learning management systems and is accessible with single sign-on, facilitating ease-of-use for universities. Anyone on campus can provide information about an “at-risk student” through an early alert referral. The information helps provide a holistic view of the student’s situation, which could entail a personal problem at home or a myriad of other factors that affect them academically. This referral goes directly to a student care coordinator who synthesizes the information along with other information in Pharos 360. Thereafter, a timely, Relational Intervention is conducted to ensure the students are not walking alone on their path to success.
Creating a Circle of Care
Because Pharos 360 expands and streamlines cross-campus communication between offices such as athletics, tutoring, student conduct, and residence life, the student care coordinator can synthesize the new referral information with other pertinent data, including grades and previously-identified roommate problems. The platform allows for communicating with all the touchpoint relationships for that student, which consist of current faculty, the referrer, and an advisor, coach, etc. “This is the Circle of Care for at-risk students that allows touchpoint relationships to provide targeted interventions that result in Relational Retention gains” adds Rachel.
It’s crucial to highlight that measuring the outcome of every such intervention is as essential as the intervention itself.
Matt Boisvert President & Co-founder
As noted by Matt Boisvert, the President and Co-founder of Pharos Resources, the Pharos 360 platform’s robust data and analytics component enables universities to tell “their story of success” and also identify places where they need to rethink their existing approaches as it pertains to leveraging resources such as coaches.
To augment the outcome of interventions, Pharos 360 offers robust capabilities such as case management, collaboration, and reporting, in addition to several add-on applications. “We designed the platform to assist schools in foundational support system work. As we were working with them, we recognized other needs they had, and add-on applications, such as Pivot, Time-free, and Present, were created,” states Boisvert. Pivot is an application that offers holistic insights about Student Conduct cases, whereas Time-free is an online appointment scheduling solution that manages calendars and coordinates schedules. Similarly, Present is an attendance management tool empowering support services with actionable information.
Harnessing the power of Retention Intelligence, the team of data scientists at Pharos Resources has devised robust predictive and analytical models named Focus and Spark to provide better insights into at-risk students and measurements for cohort intervention. Pharos Focus is a customized predictive model for identifying at-risk students with a unique retention score before the semester starts. Conversely, Pharos Spark discovers institutional trends and risk factors, allowing clients to narrate data-verified stories of their outcomes.
The Services Branch
It is the ambitious drive to support at-risk students that resulted in the inception of Pharos Resources, and this is reflected in the unparalleled services provided by the company. Pharos Resources incorporates the specific needs of each of its clients and implements customized resources. The EdTech company assists clients through every step of implementation and provides strategies that enhance support programs. Unique to Pharos Resources is its library of best-practice forms and assessments extracted from the various success stories etched by the company. “We strive to be an extension for our clients, taking the burden of time-intensive manual processes from them. We enjoy supporting the practitioners as they support their students,” emphasizes Boisvert.
Boisvert highlights an instance where Pharos Resources helped a school improve its retention rate. When hiring the company, the software used by the school yielded a retention rate of 61 percent and a 1 percent increase over three years. The company implemented Pharos 360 and Pharos Spark within two weeks of signing the contract. Over four years, the school saw a significant increase of 12 percent in retention. Pharos Spark played a pivotal role in complementing the efforts of the school’s support programs. Spark provided a persistence report that was used to identify students who did not persist, helping the school to target the new cohort and devise new strategies every year. For instance, the male athletes with business majors were retained at a lower rate than the average student. This insight led to the school building partnerships between the business faculty and the athletics department, to identify those students early and duly providing improved advisory services.
The future is bright for Pharos Resources, an EdTech firm that firmly believes in the value of higher education, and the positive influence it can have on students. “We are always looking to serve higher education in a better, more comprehensive manner,” notes Rachel. To that end, Pharos Resources has improved and added to Pharos 360’s functionality and feature set, to reduce “the number of clicks” and provide a straightforward solution to universities.
Having partnered with Macmillan Learning for the product SkyFactor Benchworks last year, Pharos Resources now integrates their New Student Survey results into Pharos 360. This non-cognitive student survey can be utilized to help institutions identify students who are struggling or at risk. When the data is displayed in Pharos 360, it provides insight into students’ specific struggles, helping institutions engage with students effectively.
Pharos Resources is also piloting a few products of Macmillan Learning’s with their clients. With Relational Retention resonating with every institution—regardless of size—Pharos Resources plans to double down on the approach and continue to invest in the development of their products. “Through our success, we aim to encourage every institution to develop a community for student success and foster a culture of student care,” concludes Boisvert.