By Tia Freelove-Kirk
Each cluster in APLU’s Powered by Publics initiative is working to refine, implement, and scale innovative practices that address shared challenges among the participating institutions. This Powered by Publics post highlights universities in the Evidence Improvement Cluster. The seven members of this cluster are: the University of Texas at Austin; Texas A&M University; University of California, Davis; University of Florida; University of Oregon; University of Utah; and University of Washington.
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Led by The University of Texas at Austin, this cluster is working to develop and validate a framework for assessing, testing, and implementing evidence-based practices in advising and first-year communities to increase student success in the entry year. This framework will include new protocols institutions can use to test and evaluate the progress, complexities, successes, and failures of their own student success initiatives. The framework will also provide support for additional evidence-based approaches to improving student success and help guide institutional budgeting and decision-making.
In 2019, cluster members inventoried their campuses’ highest priority student success initiatives focused on entry programs. This inventory served as a foundation for cross-institutional sharing and supported the identification of focus areas for the cluster to address collectively. Two working groups comprised subject-matter experts on advising and first-year communities then came together to discuss relevant high-level problems facing their campuses and develop problem statements to guide cluster efforts.
Using improvement science as a guide, the cluster identified a set of target drivers to address on campuses through small tests of change focused on two aims:
- Improving student-centered advising to increase student success, as measured by retention for all first-year students; and
- Increasing retention for all students through first-year communities and experiences, both term-to-term in the first year and the transition from the first to second year.
Now, over 30 team members across two working groups are engaging campus experts, practitioners, and key sources of information to see what works best and for whom. By doing so, the cluster will develop and learn a process for improvement that will work for programs and people across our campuses to increase student success.
The cluster inventory identified several key initiatives campuses already have underway, which will inform the cluster’s work moving forward. Examples include:
- The University of Texas at Austin’s 360 Connections initiative aids students in the transition from high school to college and connects them with people and resources on campus and foster a sense of belonging. Each connection is unique, but students explore academic integrity, leadership, connecting to faculty, university spirit and traditions, and more. Some examples of 360 connections are honors societies, first-year interest groups, or other success programs.
- Texas A&M’s “Hullabaloo U” is a year-long, zero-credit hour, first-year experience course designed to create a welcoming and affirming environment for each new student. Through this peer learning and mentorship model, students develop self-efficacy, self-awareness, and a sense of purpose; become actively engaged in the learning environment inside and outside of the classroom; and become socially integrated within the university community.
- University of Florida’s “Gator Done” Outreach Initiative is a campus-wide collaborative that emphasizes on-time completion. Each student is contacted personally by a coach who assists the student in developing a graduation plan and connecting to relevant resources. A dashboard of academic performance and graduation indicators notify coaches and advisors if a student has any red flags indicating delayed graduation.
- As part of a multi-faceted approach to strengthening advising programs, University of Utah developed a new type of advisor—the bridge advisor. The advisor is embedded in a college but is trained, fully informed about general advising concerns, and spends part of their time working in the central advising office or academic advising center.
- University of California, Davis developed a “Know Your Students” campaign to ensure faculty are better-aware of the students sitting in front of them in the classroom. Faculty are provided a dashboard with specific student compositional information such as first-generation percentage, the share of English as a Second Language students, and many more factors with tips and suggestions on how to maximize teaching opportunities for the given student groups.
- University of Oregon is placing students into “Flight Paths,” which are thematic areas of academic and career interests to encourage intentional exploring and connect student to the right majors earlier. Flight Paths will provide more coordinated services and support for student exploration and on-time graduation.
- University of Washington’s “University 101” has “flipped” orientation to help students overcome information overload. Self-guided, online modules combine written information with videos of students, faculty and professional staff members to share information on a variety of topics, including academics, registration, finances, wellness, and campus life.