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“It’s been a force multiplier for our advising program,” concluded Hillsborough Community College’s Vice President of Student Services and Enrollment Dr. Ken Ray, Jr. at a 2022 ACCT Leadership Congress session on scaling student success.

The “it” to which he referred? EduNav SmartPlan, the smart academic planning solution that his Florida-based college has branded HawkGPS for the intelligent, adaptable mascot that inspires its 45,000+ full- and part-time enrolled students. HCC fully implemented SmartPlan in April 2020. The original plan was a multi-phase project timeline, but HCC and EduNav teams quickly pivoted as the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to throw students off track.

For Dr. Ray, the decision to launch SmartPlan was somewhat personal: “I changed my major more than once when I was an undergrad, and I’m sure many of you did as well,” he reminisced with the president and trustee audience during the ACCT session. “If I had SmartPlan when I was a student — or even when I was an advisor to students! — it would have significantly decreased time to degree and money spent on excess credits, too.”

He continued, explaining what sets SmartPlan apart from other academic planning technology: “EduNav offers a planner that actually plans. Say a student needs to get a job to take care of her family, as is commonplace for those in community college. She started out planning to go to school full time, but now this student can only commit to two courses per semester. That’s not a problem with SmartPlan! The student just goes into the system, blocks off the times or days that she’ll be unable to take courses, and SmartPlan will give her a brand-new plan in just seconds. Not only will she see how the change affects her course schedule for each semester leading up to graduation, but she’ll see how much more it will cost her as well.”

HCC’s strategic leveraging of technology to scale student success has been impactful, and its institutional effectiveness data proves it. Before SmartPlan launched, 23% of first-time-in-college students stopped out after their first term of enrollment, and 41% left after their first year and did not return. This high attrition led HCC’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) committee to focus on retention and completion, centering its efforts on launching SLS 1106 (First Year Experience Orientation) and leaning into a new approach to academic advising to better serve the 75%+ of its students who are self-advised.

Where are they now, after translating their QEP to action on campus? 97% of degree-seeking HCC students have a plan available, and all students have registered using those plans, a simplified process since HCC has integrated registration into SmartPlan. Comparing its 2017-2018 averages to its 2020 data, HCC has also seen a(n):

  • 5 percentage point increase in first-semester retention (from 75% to 80%).
  • 8 percentage point increase in first-year retention (50% to 58%).
  • 32 percentage point increase in progression to 15 credits (33% to 65%).

“Working together, the components of our QEP have made a significant difference for HCC students. SLS 1106 has been a core driver of these quantitative outcomes, and SmartPlan will continue to enhance these gains in retention,” reported Dr. Ray.

He continued: “Our QEP initiatives focus on ensuring our students and their communities see a return on investment in education, and most importantly that our students can translate this investment to economic mobility. As is common with community college students, over 84% of HCC’s graduates stay in the local community. HCC students alone contribute over $1 billion in additional income and economic impact in Hillsborough County!”

When asked about the next steps for HCC and EduNav, Dr. Ray’s holistic approach to higher education, the approach that’s part of why he is such an impactful community college leader, is clear: “We’re eyeing ways we can better bridge secondary and higher education, starting with an emphasis on dual enrollment. I can see SmartPlan strengthening relationships with high school counselors, parents, high school students — all of our most important stakeholders. We are excited to continue our work with EduNav to transform lives and inspire even more students to contribute to their local communities and global society.”