5 Key Strategies for Improving Student Success

March 3, 2022 Watermark Insights

After analyzing data from eight years of serving higher education institutions, Watermark (formerly Aviso Retention) has identified five strategies that make a significant impact on student retention. With the right engagements, by the right individuals, at the right time - student potential can be released, leading to a life of purpose and success. These strategies can be implemented easily by new higher education institutions and re-emphasized by existing partners to make gains in student completion and retention. Watermark is an Equity Solution - and the more student potential we release, the more we can close the equity gap and help students succeed.

Prioritizing Engagement by Risk Levels

In Watermark, students are assigned a risk indicator for both course completion and term persistence. These students are then sorted into three groups - high risk (red), medium risk (yellow), and low risk (green). Advisors and success coaches can then prioritize their outreach to the students that need them most from their Watermark dashboard. The dashboard can help them understand which students need their help and how to take action through meetings, impact tasks, and action plans. Staff and faculty can easily personalize their outreach, plan their intervention strategies and quickly identify the student’s risk allowing for a more proactive approach to student success.


  • 12 percent increase for high-risk students as identified by Watermark risk modeling in their 18-month persistence rate.
  • 6 percent increase in retention at highly engaged institutions in our First in the World study that examined prioritized outreach with success coaches over five years with 10 community colleges in North Carolina.

Success coaches who focus on those medium and high-risk students provide a safety net that Jairo McMican, Dean of Student Learning at Central Carolina Community College, compares to brakes on a car. Without brakes to safely stop, most drivers would limit their speed.

“This same concept can be applied to the value of having a coach,” McMican says. “Yes, some folks are able to figure out how to navigate higher education with more success and confidence than others. However, with an assigned coach, even more students will enhance their chances for success. Just the idea of having someone there with our students is enough to increase their courage and self-efficacy. This is especially true for those students who are most vulnerable. With a coach, students can go faster.

Monitoring Attendance in Real-Time

Class attendance is a better predictor of college grades than any other known predictor of academic performance, including scores on standardized admissions tests such as the ACT, SAT, high school GPA, study habits, and study skills. Based on data collected from our institutions, we know that:

  • Students missing at least one course meeting are 9-12% less likely to pass the course than students who attend all class meetings
  • Students missing more than two class meetings within any course are between 5-6% more likely to drop out than other students.

Institutions can intervene early with our automated attendance alerts. Students and their success team can receive alerts when students miss class and reach out to support their efforts to attend regularly before it's too late. 


Attendance data captured is used in predictive analytics to better understand impact on student success. At Nash Community College, Marbeth Holmes, Dean of Student Wellness is already seeing how attendance alerts make an impact, even in their first semester of using Watermark.

“Students are saying ‘Oh I’ve got to go to class because I got an alert,’” Holmes says. “They are coming to reach out to the director of our MALE program for academic assistance when their grades slip. And having that early information enables our students to be proactive. It also enables us as a team across campus to be proactive to support our students before they get into crisis mode.”

Assigning Tasks to Students

Faculty and staff can assign tasks to students in Watermark Student Success & Engagement (formerly Aviso Engage). Tasks take different forms across all of our institutions. They can be created from templates or originated by the user. They might be steps in an action plan for onboarding steps, applying for financial aid or a specific program on campus. These tasks can help keep students on track towards obtaining their goals.

When our Data Science team looked at the set of all tasks assigned to students across all customers, they found that:

  • Students with active or completed tasks demonstrate a 22% increase in course pass rates since the launch of Impact Tasking on campus.
  • Students who complete tasks demonstrate a 9% increase in course pass rates and a 3.4% increase in persistence rates compared to those students with incomplete tasks.
  • Students who complete their own tasks experience a 26% increase in course completion rates compared to students with tasks completed by staff members.

Creating Academic Plans

We know that student success starts with a plan. Advisors love Watermark’s drag and drop functionality on our Academic Planning feature, and students enjoy seeing their progress. We found that student success rates are significantly higher and more consistent when students can visualize their progress and the plan for the semesters ahead.



  • Students on Academic Plans demonstrate a 27% increase in course completion rates compared to students not on a plan.
  • Students on Academic Plans experience a 51% increase in next term persistence rates compared to students not on a plan.
  • First time students on Academic Plans demonstrate a 97% increase in retention rates.

Student Engagement

Staying connected to students is crucial to impacting their success. In Watermark (formerly Aviso Retention), you can create engaging conversations with students while using multiple delivery options. “Students often don’t respond to emails, but for the large majority, texting is their comfort zone and the number one way that they are reaching out,” said Lindsay Adams, Advisor and Success Coach at North Central State College.

At Watermark (formerly Aviso Retention), we found that students interacting with their support team via SMS text messaging demonstrate a 6 percent increase in their rate of persistence.

We are confident that persistence rates will continue to increase with the Watermark Student app. The app will allow push notifications and messages in addition to traditional texts.

Next Steps

Implementing these keys to student success will boost student retention, but we know change takes time and manpower. Whether you are a new or existing customer, the Watermark team is here to help you strategize on how and when to adopt each of these features to your campus.

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