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Instructor advises student

A new playbook for student success

YakConnect app bolsters team approach to supporting student success

Every Yakima Valley College student has their individual strengths, challenges, interests and dreams. Some go to school full-time. Others juggle part-time coursework while holding down a job. Many plan to transfer to a four-year school, while others will enter their career upon graduation.

To support each student’s individual goals and circumstances, a team of YVC staff and faculty is available to help — their faculty advisor, counseling staff, pathway navigator and instructors. While that team approach has contributed to YVC’s success in indicators such as achieving a higher student retention rate than the average for Washington community and technical colleges, it comes with a downside: complexity.

“We’re a student-centered institution, but YVC has not always had the messaging and record-keeping tools to help students stay on track toward reaching their education goals,” said Mark Fuzie, an English instructor and the college’s Guided Pathways director.

For some students, that’s made it difficult to know who to ask for help as they make their academic plans or seek help with issues threatening to derail their studies.

A new tool launched in Winter Quarter 2023, called YakConnect, aims to simplify things. 

“The goal is all students will have the ability to plan their education and see what’s possible,” Fuzie said. “With YakConnect we can actually track and see if an individual student is getting off plan. We can contact them and find out what’s going on and we can help them achieve their goals.”

Instructor talks to students sitting around table
ELA Instructor Ericka Tollefson, standing, talks with students during a class exercise.

Smoothing communications

For many years, students in the college’s English Language Acquisition (ELA) and Adult Basic Education (ABE) programs have met one-on-one with advisors to talk about their goals and create a personal learning plan. However, ELA Instructor Ericka Tollefson said sharing information between instructors was always a challenge.

“We had no really good way to track students and communicate that information to each other as they progress toward their goals,” Tollefson said.

She said the implementation of YakConnect has required a significant amount of work, but it’s been productive work that has resulted in more consistency in interactions between advisors and students.

“Our students move between different locations and times for their classes, and having all that information instantly available to anyone who is helping them meet their goals as quickly as possible is huge.”

Tollefson noted that the new technology is user-friendly for both students and faculty, which ultimately makes advising more efficient and accurate.

“There’s better communication between all sides since we all have access to the same information,” she said. “I think this going to help empower students to see not just what the class is that I need to take next quarter, but what classes do I can need to take in the long-term to get my certificate or degree.”

Helping students stay on track

In winter quarter, faculty began using YakConnect to set up advising appointments with students, with the app making it easy for every student to view their advisor’s calendar and set up an appointment.

Fuzie said YakConnect also can be a powerful tool to help students facing a challenge to their continued progress. For example, the college has used YakConnect to reach out to students in jeopardy of being dropped for non-payment of tuition and those who haven’t enrolled in courses for the next quarter.

In the first quarter of using YakConnect, Fuzie noted the number of students dropped for non-payment of tuition was significantly lower than in the previous year.

“YakConnect is a huge advance for us in offering support directly to students who need it,” Fuzie said. “The fact we can see specific names of students and track their click and open rates is way ahead of where we were.”

Yet the college is still just in the early stages of tapping into the potential of YakConnect to help students achieve their goals. In Spring Quarter 2023, for example, the college rolled out a new academic planner tool in YakConnect, allowing students in many of the college’s most popular degrees and certificates to plot out which courses to take each quarter during their time at YVC.

“We’ve done that for some specific programs in the past, but YakConnect opens that up to a lot more students” Fuzie said. “Academic planning isn’t easy. With the academic planner, we make it a lot easier to students to visualize their time at YVC. That can play a huge role in helping students graduate faster so they can take the next step in their lives.”