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    Bethune-Cookman University Uses Upswing’s Student Engagement Technology to Overcome Challenges of Retaining Students Amid COVID-19

    Published on November 20, 2020

    AUSTIN, Texas:The pandemic created unprecedented challenges for college administrators looking to retain their students for the fall semester, but Bethune-Cookman University, a small historically black college and university (HBCU) in Daytona Beach, Florida, rose to the challenge relying on Upswing’s student engagement technology to stay connected to their students, the university revealed during a COVID Conversation webinar hosted by Upswing.

    “Emergency preparedness is something every university plans for, but no one could predict how  COVID-19 would bring a whole new meaning to this accrediting and certification standard of Emergency Preparedness. COVID 19 wreaked havoc on the very essence in what we do and how we communicate with our students,” says Dr. Arletha McSwain, Sr. Educational Technologist and President-Elect of the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA).

    Bethune-Cookman is the only HBCU whose graduate online degree programs are nationally certified by the USDLA . Earning this certification in 2015 made the transitioning of nearly 100 faculty, over 2500 students, and at least 750 classes online a little easier.

    “Fortunately, we had Upswing, and it became a very powerful tool for us,” says Dr. McSwain. Ms. Shantell Culmer-Thompson, Executive Director & University Ombudsman works very closely with Dr. McSwain to implement Upswing, states, “Upswing has helped us realize that communication does not have to be burdensome or overwhelming. Upswing’s virtual tutoring offers our students the convenience of availability, accessibility, and valuable one-on-one sessions that students may not have been otherwise afforded due to COVID-19.”

    Upswing’s integrated services platform focuses on increasing student achievement for diverse populations by scaling student services, supporting 24/7 online tutoring, and optimizing student engagement with Ana, an SMS-based, people-backed virtual assistant.

    “Having the faculty and students in the Upswing student services platform made it a smoother transition for administrators to achieve this goal, and then focus on our fall enrollment,” adds Dr. McSwain.

    Upswing is Much More Than Tutoring

    Initially, Bethune-Cookman looked at Upswing as their 24/7 online tutoring and writing lab. But the more the university worked with Upswing, the administrators found it was much more powerful and played a key role in helping the university achieve its goals during COVID.

    “Upswing is much more than tutoring. We provide a robust set of student engagement tools that help universities, like Bethune-Cookman, uncover things that tell them where students are struggling and provide insight so they can provide a richer learning experience for their students,” says Melvin Hines, co-founder and CEO of Upswing.

    Hines says it’s important to reach students where they are, online, and provide students with access to leading-edge tools and academic resources, like Upswing, that are available at their fingertips at all times.

    Staying Connected with Students

    “Now we’re using Upswing for tutoring, retention, financial aid applications, and dropout prevention, as well as piloting their new mental health platform,” says Dr. McSwain. “The beauty of Upswing is that we’re using Ana, Upswing’s virtual assistant, for communicating directly with our students with text messages over their cell phones. We are finding that our students are more likely to respond to a text message as opposed to an e-mail.”

    Dr. McSwain says in the spirit of COVID-19, Upswing plays a critical role in helping Bethune-Cookman honoring their pledge to stay connected to students.

    “Getting our students to respond is important because they’re not on campus, and Ana helps students do what they used to do face-to-face on campus.”

    Before Upswing, Bethune-Cookman says it was challenging to track the impact of tutoring consistently, but now the university can see how many students are accessing Upswing and other peak periods.

    University administrators saw the power of Upswing and implemented new initiatives to address online and dropout prevention.

    Bethune-Cookman customized their system, so Ana engages students in key bottleneck areas where it has been traditionally difficult to get them to respond.

    Ana gently nudges students with text messages reminding them not to forget to respond to important requests for financial aid, student accounts, mental health, and student services.

    “Giving our students action items they can respond to is so important during COVID, and it’s this aspect of Upswing we’re so excited about moving forward,” says Dr. McSwain.

    Bethune-Cookman spent the summer getting ready for the fall semester by creating a roadmap for reopening, including using Upswing to keep students engaged in and out of the classroom.

    Many faculty give students bonus points for logging into Upswing, and administrators are using Ana as their dropout prevention system. Bethune-Cookman even used Ana for student voter registration and organizing their students’ march to the polls.

    Next, Bethune-Cookman looks forward to measuring their success for the fall semester and Upswing’s impact on dropout prevention.

    “Like our sister HBCUs, our mission is to put the students first. We know our students, and our students know us. We looked to Upswing to help us scale our student services to provide our resilient students with even greater support,” adds Dr. McSwain.

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