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Assessing Institutional Capacity to Advance Student Success and Equity

By Melissa Rivas

Melissa Rivas is an Assistant Director in APLU’s Center for Public University Transformation.

Last fall, a subset of 14 institutions (listed at the bottom of this post) participating in APLU’s Powered by Publics initiative piloted a tool called the Institutional Transformation Assessment (ITA) that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation developed. The ITA is a web-based tool that helps universities understand institutional strengths and areas for improvement with the goal of building capacity to better support students on campus and develop an action plan for reaching the institution’s student success goals.

The tool is rooted in the idea that addressing barriers to student success requires institutions to build essential operating capacity to advance equity and student success solutions throughout the student journey.

What We Found
The pilot of the ITA by a subset of institutions participating in Powered by Publics revealed that:

  • Institutions share the belief that student success is the responsibility of all campus stakeholders and units. Still, they often reported that elements of their campus’s culture works against or inhibits this from becoming a reality. Institutions reported that fixed mindsets non-student centered policies and practices present barriers to realizing that vision.
  • University-wide communication surfaced as a common challenge across all institutions in the pilot. Participants shared how their university shows they are committed to improving their student success outcomes, but university accomplishments are not always shared effectively or efficiently with the broader campus community.
  • Institutions emphasized how faculty play a significant role in fostering a campus culture; many institutions highlighting the need for a shift in mindset around faculty teaching and learning practices, particularly around digital learning.
  • The process for obtaining data is a barrier to improvement. Individuals requested the development of a more streamlined and user-friendly process. Institutions have several systems collecting data, but these systems do not share a single platform. This leads faculty and staff to pull data from multiple sources, which makes the process long and arduous.

For the full report on the ITA pilot results and findings, please click here.

How It Works
The ITA has two components. The first is a survey comprised of 30 questions for leaders and 100 questions for other university stakeholders that are intended to assess core institutional operating capacities related to student success. The second component is a facilitated sensemaking conversation with key stakeholders from the university to review results and develop actionable next steps.

The ITA is informed by the work of the Association for Institutional Research (AIR), the National Association of College and University Business Officers, EDUCAUSE, and HCM Strategies.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation defines these core operating capacities as: leadership and culture, policy, institutional research, strategic finance, and information technology. Additional sections of the ITA help institutions assess their capacity in the areas of developmental education, student services, digital learning, and development of degree pathways.

The Participating Institutions
The institutions that piloted the tool are: University of Cincinnati; University of Louisville; University of Missouri-Kansas City; the University of New Mexico; University of North Texas; Rutgers University-Newark; Texas State University; University of Texas at El Paso; the University of Texas at San Antonio; University of South Alabama; the University of Toledo; Virginia Commonwealth University; Wayne State University.

  • Degree Completion & Student Success
  • Powered by Publics

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