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April 24, 2014 Volume 35, No. 28

MU Connect helping students succeed academically

The system is accessed online through Blackboard

Mizzou is taking a proactive approach in its continuing effort to help students succeed. 

Based on a recommendation from the Commission for Student Success, the university has developed MU Connect to improve the student success rate (also referred to as retention rate), increase graduation rate and decrease the time it takes to graduate.

All four campuses in the University of Missouri System are using Starfish, a product that supports technology that

facilitates student success and aids faculty and staff in helping students succeed. 

Mizzou’s system is called MU Connect, which can be accessed online through Blackboard. 

“We believe students should have a support network to guide them on a path for success,” said Jim Spain, vice provost for undergraduate studies. 

“While our faculty and staff already do great things to foster student success, MU Connect will aid them in supporting students, while also serving as a valuable resource for the students.”

Students are alerted immediately when a concern is raised about their academic performance. They are then directed to available support services.

“The goal is to be proactive when it comes to helping students succeed,” said Tina Balser, coordinator of the Student Success Initiatives. “We want to identify issues before they become larger concerns. 

“It benefits the student, but also makes it easier for faculty, advisers and other support services to help students thrive,” she said.


Connect is the first component to be phased in on the MU campus. It provides a one-stop shop that connects students to support offices and individuals who can assist, and facilitates meaningful contact between students and their advisers, instructors, tutors and other campus personnel. The Learning Center and the Writing Center are also available through the system. 

“There are a multitude of support services that are designed to help students with challenges they may encounter while in college,” Balser said. “Connect provides a clear navigation to those resources.”

Each student has a personal “My Success Network” that includes their academic adviser and specific campus services that provide online scheduling, making it easy to set up in-person meetings and group appointments. 

“At a research institution like ours, faculty are extremely busy,” said Hani Salim, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. 

“Faculty can benefit by keeping their schedules up to date so that students will be able to utilize available times for advising and academic needs.”

Last spring, MU used Connect as a pilot program in the College of Engineering. 

The system was added last fall to the College of Agriculture Food and Natural Resources, the College of Arts and Science, and the Academic Exploration and Advising Services. 

The Trulaske College of Business was added earlier this semester. The College of Education and School of Health Professions will be added by the end of Spring 2014. The remaining academic units will be implemented by the end of the fall 2014 semester.

Seventy percent of undergraduate students will have access by the end of this semester, with 100 percent being on board by the end of Fall 2014. 

“It is extremely convenient to make an advising appointment online at 3 a.m. or whenever students are thinking about it and not having to wait until our office is open,” said Shannon Breske, director of undergraduate advising for the Trulaske College of Business. 

“MU Connect also sends reminders, which has dramatically helped with the number of students not showing up for their appointments,” she said.


The Early Alert component, currently in the pilot phase, identifies students at risk academically before they withdraw. Instructors can flag at-risk students manually or set up the system to flag automatically based on online grade book data. Recommendations from support services are communicated to the student and appropriate personnel are informed of the flags. 

Students receiving a flag are put in contact with appropriate support offices, instructors or advisers. They can use Connect’s online appointment system to schedule meetings.

“As an educator, my main goal is to reach out to students to ensure that they are keeping up with their progress,” Salim said. 

“Using the early warning system is helping me greatly achieve my objective.”

Instructors can also give “kudos” to students for improved performance or outstanding work, and share notes on students with one another and support staff.

“If I send a student to Arts and Science advising, I can then see any notes that the adviser puts into the student’s file,” said Ian Aberbach, director of undergraduate studies for the Department of Mathematics.


Students flagged for poor academic performance typically resolve their flags by being tutored to improve their homework methods and test scores.

“I was very impressed by the students’ responses to a recent progress report I sent to them after the first exam of my online course,” Salim said. “Students, with both excellent and poor grades, responded with commitments to continue to work hard and to look for ways to improve their performance. 

“With the new program in place,” Salim continued, “I have seen a significant improvement in the dedication of students toward their learning.”

— Josh Murray