Oral Roberts University (ORU)—located in Tulsa, Oklahoma—is an interdenominational Christian liberal arts university founded in 1963 by evangelist Oral Roberts. ORU was founded to educate the whole person: mind, body, and spirit. A comprehensive university dedicated to student outcomes, ORU offers more than 65 undergraduate majors as well as 14 masters-level programs and two doctoral degrees. The Tulsa campus is home to students from all 50 U.S. states and 83 countries. Faculty members educated at the nation’s top graduate schools serve as academic, professional, and spiritual mentors to this diverse student population.
Keeping Students on Track to Graduation
Like many postsecondary institutions, ORU is concerned about the retention challenge. “From a higher learning commission standpoint, our biggest issues pivot around reducing debt for students and making sure our faculty are the best faculty we can have,” says Michael Mathews, CIO of ORU. “We can’t afford to have students stumble through courses or drop classes because they don’t like them or because they meet a learning barrier. If we have students not persisting through courses related to a program, that leads to a larger retention problem.”
Better Vision and Insight into the Retention Numbers
As ORU looked more closely at the factors influencing student success, persistence and retention rates, an even bigger challenge emerged. Although the university had been capturing data from online and hybrid courses within the Brightspace platform for five years, they desired a laser focused approach that captured every aspect of the student experience. ORU administrators wanted clearer insight of the university’s retention rate—estimates put it anywhere from 50 to 60%. Additionally, the university needed proven and seamless tools to help instructors understand student performance, identify at-risk students, and proactively intervene for more successful outcomes.
Analytics to Mine Data
Mathews and his team recognized that a lot of value could be found in the untapped “gold mine” of student-related data captured within the Brightspace platform. To lead ORU’s analytics initiative, the university hired Dr. Kenneth Berchenbriter, a 34-year IT and academic veteran with expertise in applying technology to improve operational performance within organizations.
Better Data Translates into Earlier Guidance
“We wanted to give our instructors better information on what’s happening in the classroom and the ability to examine performance on a course level, at a program level, and then across an entire area of academic focus,” says Dr. Berchenbriter. “We were looking to give our faculty as much data as we could to allow them to be proactive versus reactive. If you wait too long and rely too much on mid-term grades and performance, it’s just too late to intervene. Students will have gone through half the course and those at risk may consider dropping out.”
“Great” Student Performance Data
ORU began by leveraging the Brightspace Advanced Analytics solution for all its online courses and implementing a new early warning system via the Brightspace Student Success System™. The combination of these technologies allowed IT to present data collected from the Brightspace platform into meaningful views for faculty.
“Instructors needed to focus on where they needed to take action. It’s like looking at your car’s dashboard and seeing the ‘check engine light.’ You know something’s wrong. Brightspace Insights and the Student Success System allow us to quickly spot when students are having problems and to drill into the details to discover problems with class components. We can also examine trends over time to see if the problem may be related to difficulty with a textbook, an assignment, or a certain instructor who may be having trouble teaching the class,” says Dr. Berchenbriter.
Visualizing Academic and Social Performance
Focusing on education that benefits the whole person, ORU takes great care to nurture the mind, body, and spirit of its students. Staying true to this goal, the institution has leveraged Brightspace to not only visualize a student’s academic performance, but their social interactions as well.
“I was teaching an online class and noticed one of my students was interacting with only one other person in the classroom,” says Dr. Berchenbriter. “After speaking with the student, I learned she had moved into the class from another cohort. So the dynamics of the group were already in place and it was hard for her to break in. The early warning system in Brightspace prompted me to encourage her classmates to work harder at folding her into discussions.”
“We were looking to give our faculty as much data as we could to allow them to be proactive versus reactive. If you wait too long and rely too much on mid-term grades and performance, it’s just too late to intervene. Students will have gone through half the course and those at risk may consider dropping out.”
Dr. Kenneth Berchenbriter, Systems Analyst, Oral Roberts University
After just one semester, ORU is developing a much clearer picture of its student persistence and retention rates. According to Mathews, the university has already seen its retention (persistence) rate increase from 61% to 75.5% just by having accurate information at hand. Full-time registration in ORU’s online program has also increased by 67% over the same timeframe. “We’re not relying on guesswork anymore,” says Mathews. “We have more precise data to work with and more detailed information.”
 Information courtesy of Oral Roberts University