Action Project 1

Counting All Students: Tracking Attendance for College-Wide Impact

Project Goal

Washington State Community College (WSCC) will investigate the implications of developing a new attendance tracking and reporting policy/process. We will determine how an e-template software could be linked to our information management system to track and report attendance (AQIP Category Eight: Planning Continuous Improvement).

Reasons for Project

Federal financial aid, veteran educational benefits, and other federal and state programs use student attendance records to determine student eligibility for funds. Federal financial aid regulations require the college to monitor attendance for students receiving Title IV funding (Pell Grants, Stafford Student Loans, and Work-Study money). There are two separate requirements:

  1. A student must begin attendance in a class to establish initial eligibility to receive financial aid.

  2. If a student stops attending classes, the amount of financial aid awarded must be recalculated based on the last date of attendance, if the College has a requirement that faculty take attendance. Schools that do not require faculty to take attendance use the 50% point of the term. Currently WSCC does not require faculty to take attendance.

 At WSCC, we provide federal financial aid to nearly 60% of our students. The loan default rate of our students is just under 19.6%.

In response to the "Dear Colleague" letter from the U.S. Department of Education dated October 20, 2011, WSCC recognizes the risks that open-enrollment community colleges with e-learning programs can become exposed to individuals looking for ways to fraudulently obtain federal student aid. As identified in the letter, students register for online courses, complete one academic activity to obtain federal student aid and then stop actively participating in the online coursework. This action project will serve as an immediate internal control that we can take to detect and prevent this type of fraud. WSCC is committed to be a watchful steward of taxpayer-supported student assistance programs.

Organizational Areas Affected

The team who will implement this action project will include the Vice President for Academic Affairs, Chief Enrollment Services and Student Success Officer, Director of Financial Aid, Controller, and Information Technology and Management Information Systems staff.

Key Organizational Process(es)

We will develop processes and procedures in fall 2012 and spring 2013 for implementation by fall 2013.

Project Time Frame Rationale

We will develop a number of processes to insure students understand the financial aid process to help them to manage their aid and pay off their debt. We will establish a way to track when students stop attending classes to insure appropriate funds are returned to the federal government. This should also reduce fraud and misuse of funds. Improving student attendance tracking will allow faculty to report a last date of attendance with their grades. This process will allow for a more accurate and timely determination of the student's earned financial aid for reporting and Return of Title IV Refund procedures.

Project Success Monitoring

We will monitor this Action Project through attendance reports, Early Alert reports, defaults, and on-time completion rates.

Project Outcome Measures

We will consider this project a success should the college make a definitive decision to move the project forward. If the decision is feasible, we would expect all faculty use the proposed e-template, see a reduction in student loan debt, and a decrease in the misuse of funds. We hope a byproduct of this action project will be an increase in student completion rates as students become more conscientious of their borrowing and spending patterns, enrolling in courses that have a direct bearing on their program of study.

Annual Update - Project Accomplishments and Status

A committee met and discussed the importance of electronic attendance reporting for purposes of student success, Return of Title IV Refund processing, and success funding from the State of Ohio. There was agreement that this data is important and necessary for student success and compliance. Beginning with summer term 2013, faculty members were required to submit a last date of attendance with their grades in our Ellucian Colleague student information system, which has made for improved reporting. Our Director of E-Learning with input from committee members developed our Attendance Tracking system and instruction guide. (Though we will be concluding this Action Project, we will continue to solicit feedback from faculty on our Attendance Tracking process and track class attrition to compare with semesters when attendance tracking was not required on a daily basis.)

http://elearning.wscc.edu/hlc/Attandance_Tracking_Report.xlsx  Reporting template

http://elearning.wscc.edu/hlc/Attendance_Tracking_Process.pdf  - Instructions

Institution Involvement

The Financial Aid Office was included in several meetings to discuss how our faculty would report the last date of attendance in Ellucian Colleague for ease of reporting and extraction of data for the Return of Title IV Refund process. The Vice President for Academic Affairs, Director of E-Learning, Chief Enrollment and Student Success Officer, and three division deans were part of the original design team of the attendance tracking template and process. During summer 2013, the Director of E-Learning provided four separate training sessions to full-time and part-time faculty, deans, administrative assistants, and interested student affairs personnel to learn how to operate the online attendance tracking report. Two sessions were also run during our fall in-service week. Feedback is solicited from faculty during training sessions and at division meetings throughout the semester. Administrative assistants and the Director of E-Learning are readily available to assist faculty who need a review or who missed any previous training session.

Next Steps

Deans will monitor faculty reporting to insure that there is 100% compliance with attendance report submissions. Information on students who receive a failing grade will be forwarded to Financial Aid to determine whether a return of Title IV funds is warranted. We intend to calculate the number and percentage of students who withdraw or fail courses, identify patterns, and plan success measures to implement in courses with high numbers. A plus/delta will be held during spring 2014 in-service for faculty to share their ideas and offer suggestions on the attendance tracking process. We will routinely arrange training on our attendance process for new faculty and those wanting a review.

Resulting Effective Practices

Faculty will be required to submit a last date of attendance for all students with failing grades and withdrawals. This information will be used in federal financial aid reports to monitor the return of aid as well as to track student academic progress. A corollary of this project is that our students are now made aware that their attendance in classes is being tracked daily. As a result, students are less likely to "drop off the radar."

Project Challenges

An outstanding opportunity is to insure all faculty participate in the process and require daily recording and access to attendance records in Ellucian Colleague, which would permit deans to monitor attendance at any time. An additional module in Ellucian Colleague needs to be set up to allow for daily attendance reporting into the system, providing readily accessible information. We will need to revise institutional policy to clearly state that attendance must be recorded on a daily basis.

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