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New version of Academic Concern System makes assessing cases and giving updates easier

Elizabeth+Bleicher%2C+dean+for+student+success+and+retention+in+the+Center+for+Student+Success+and+Retention+who+worked+to+make+changes+to+the+Academic+Concerns+System.+Bleicher+calls+the+system+a+tool+to+give+faculty+the+ability+to+connect+students+with+the+resources+they+might+need+when+their+academic+performance+fails+to+meet+expectations.
Aminatta Imrana Jallow
Elizabeth Bleicher, dean for student success and retention in the Center for Student Success and Retention who worked to make changes to the Academic Concerns System. Bleicher calls the system a tool to give faculty the ability to connect students with the resources they might need when their academic performance fails to meet expectations.

Ithaca College released an updated and improved Fall 2023 version of the Academic Concern System for students and faculty. The main new changes to the system include the ability to assess the severity of a case and make updates more easily.

The Academic Concern System is what Elizabeth Bleicher, dean for student success and retention in the Center for Student Success and Retention who worked to make these changes, calls a tool to give faculty the ability to connect students with the resources they might need when their academic performance fails to meet expectations.

The system was created around 2013 and was previously titled the Academic Alert System. Bleicher said the name was changed because it sounded too deterring for students and made the process sound uninviting. The system exists online and is restricted for faculty and staff use, based on their connection to their students. It works only on a need-to-know basis, as faculty cannot see any information outside of what is available on HomerConnect and only advisors and deans are able to see all of a student’s academics. 

The CSSR as well as the dean’s offices have since worked on changes to improve the system based on assessments of previously filed concerns to assist students better. 

“We have changed how we have interacted with students,” Bleicher said. “We want people to come in and get help because we have [resources like] … success tutors and peer success coaches.” 

The first step of the current system now starts with what Bleicher described as a life ring sent out to students who a faculty member has expressed concerns about. At this point, the student is not required to take any action but is simply invited to visit the CSSR to seek support. The center then reaches out to the student with resources like tutoring that are meant to help them get back on track.

Bleicher said the updated version of the system clearly helps indicate if a case is mild, serious or somewhere in between. Bleicher said that indicating a lower level of concern is a necessity because it doesn’t make students feel intimidated and makes them feel like someone is looking out for them.

“It’s easy — when students go off to college — to feel like, ‘No one can see me,’ and faculty are like, ‘Yeah, we see you and we see that it’s not 100%. How are you doing?’” Bleicher said.

Cases that are in between mild and serious allow faculty to intervene by giving students the option to meet with their school’s dean’s office. If the students choose not to interact with the dean’s office, they are again referred for help to the CSSR.

Bleicher said that in any event, assistance and resources will be provided to students in need.

“You’re going to get helped,” Bleicher said. “You might as well just accept it.” 

The second change to the system allows professors to make updates to concerns already filed, informing them whether progress is being made or not instead of having to file a new concern. 

“It is a way of [cutting the] back and forth between the people trying to help the student and the person who submitted the concern,” Bleicher said. 

Amy O’Dowd, associate dean of student services in the School of Humanities and Sciences, was also involved in deciding what changes needed to be made to the system. O’Dowd said via email that she believes the system benefits professors by making it more accessible for them to intervene sooner rather than later. 

O’Dowd said that creating a distinction between higher and lower level concerns helps better address the needs of a student. A lower level of concern could look something like a student who has been doing well in any given course up to a specific point missing a couple of classes or an assignment deadline. Comparatively, a higher level of concern could look something like a student missing several classes over the course of a couple weeks as well as many assignment deadlines.

O’Dowd emphasized the importance of creating a distinction between lower and higher levels of concern. 

“We’re not requiring a meeting of a student who may just have momentarily been sidetracked by something in their life or gotten temporarily underwater with assignments,” O’Dowd said. “It encourages a faculty member to not wait until things get dire to let someone know that a student could use outreach.”

Kristin Morse, academic services coordinator in the Roy H. Park School of Communications, shared a similar perspective as O’Dowd.

“[The goal is] catching students who may be struggling and need a little extra help earlier rather than later,” Morse said.

O’Dowd said the process of making revisions to the system was a thoughtful and thorough one.

“We spent a lot of time talking about the types of submissions we were receiving, the responses we were getting from students, what students needed the most and when they needed it, and how we could best use our time and resources,” O’Dowd said.

Bleicher has said via email that with the new changes, use of the concern system has increased.

“The system is being used more now that people know there are two levels of outreach and since we report back that we have connected with a student,” Bleicher said. “Now they know that we are working hard to connect with and help every student about whom they have a concern.” 

First-year student Lindsay Paille said she feels that students seem to feel positive about the changes made to the concern system.

“Students seem to like the new changes made to the academic concern system, thinking that it makes them feel safe and looked out for by the college,” Paille said via email. “These changes allow [faculty] to help and guide students through a variety of challenges and provide them the help they need faster than before.” 

Other students seem to like the idea but feel that more should be done to make the services from CSSR more known. Senior Roxanne Palladino said she wishes that students were more aware of resources that are meant for them.

“I do wish that this was communicated more with the students,” Palladino said. “I think that we should know more about the resources available to us.”

 

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