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Paving the Way for Student Veteran Success

In the military, everything is about being part of a team. You’re working with your fellow service members all day, every day, and you know that they’ll have your back no matter what. But when you leave the military, all the trust and camaraderie of that 24/7 team culture just disappears. Transitioning back to civilian life in general can be challenging. Navigating the complexities of a college campus makes it even harder.

That’s where PAVE comes in. Peer Advisors for Veterans Education (PAVE) is a peer support program that connects incoming student veterans with student veterans already on campus in order to help them navigate college life, refer them to resources, and provide ongoing support. The same team culture that helped student veterans thrive in the military is used to support their success on campus.

Developed by the University of Michigan and the Student Veterans of America, and with support from funders including Bristol-Myers Squibb, The Robert R. McCormick Foundation, and Major League Baseball Charities, PAVE is a national network of 42 universities with a proven track record of helping their student veterans succeed. The program was piloted with just 12 institutions and recently expanded in Fall 2016 to an additional 30 institutions, including UW Tacoma. The expansion was so popular that more than 100 universities applied and most are still on a waiting list to participate. The program is a natural fit for UW Tacoma: because of our close proximity to Joint Base Lewis–McChord, nearly 10% of our students are veterans and another 10% are military-affiliated spouses and family members.

The program’s structure is simple: each campus has a team leader (like myself), a veteran services coordinator, and a university champion. The team leader facilitates matching incoming students with existing student veterans in their field of study. We try to have as many disciplines as possible represented, so that we can match students with peers who have similar interests and career goals.  Each peer advisor meets with their students one-on-one to discuss the student’s unmet needs, identify individuals on campus who can help, and connect the student to resources directly through a “warm handoff.” After each interaction, we collect and log data on student issues that will help us plan for future resource needs.

So what do veteran students need most to succeed?  Since we started the program, most of the issues we’ve logged pertain to academic support and financial aid. We’re also prepared to help students with a much wider variety of challenges, including health care and family services. Even though the program was just launched in fall 2016, we’re already identifying issues that we didn’t know existed before, and seeing positive results with the students we’ve helped.

As a student veteran who has made the transition to higher education, I know the difficulties of separating the military and navigating a college campus. The PAVE program allows me to share my experiences with fellow veterans and help ease a potentially daunting transition process.

The program is low-cost, sustainable, and relatively easy to implement. PAVE provides all team leaders with a $1,500 stipend during the first semester, which the university is encouraged to sustain going forward. We’re also working on providing each peer advisor with a $500 scholarship from sponsorship funding. But the greatest benefit of collaboration with PAVE is the support of its national network. PAVE provides a fully-developed, online platform – refined during the initial 2-year pilot with 12 institutions – which helps each peer advisor communicate with their assigned group of new student veterans, log interactions, and track issues that were discussed. We also received a toolkit of resources and best practices when we signed on, and participated in a summer training program with the other new PAVE member institutions. There are regular conference calls and trainings, and we know that if we run into any issues, we can call up folks at any one of the other 41 institutions to get ideas. It’s exactly that team culture and spirit of collaboration that makes the program so successful, and allows us to help so many student veterans thrive on campus.

aflanaganAndrew Flanagan is the Team Leader for PAVE on the UW Tacoma campus. Born in Portland Oregon, Andrew’s family relocated to Lacey, Washington. After completing high school Andrew enlisted in the United States Air Force to become an aviation maintenance technician on the KC-135 aircraft. Stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington, Andrew deployed 3 times with the KC-135 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Andrew spent these deployments in Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. Andrew separated the Air Force in 2014 and made his transition to higher education. Currently a senior, Andrew is studying law and policy and hopes to continue his education pursuing a graduate degree.

USU would like to recognize other member institutions participating in PAVE: the University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Colorado Denver, Rutgers University, and Georgia State University. To learn more about joining PAVE visit

What’s the Value of Public Higher Education?

In times of uncertainty, it’s helpful to take a step back and reflect upon our core values and mission. Why are we here? What do we do best? What have we accomplished, and what do we hope to achieve in the future?

As leaders of public institutions, we know our universities provide great benefit to society, but communicating that value can be challenging. Misconceptions abound, and it’s become harder to distinguish fact from fiction in an over-saturated media environment. We need to remind the public that our institutions provide great value to students, the economy, our communities, and scientific progress.

That’s the goal of APLU’s #PublicUValues campaign: a one-month social media blitz intended to bring public universities together as one voice and communicate the value of public higher education. Throughout October, universities delivered a coordinated and consistent message, backed by data and success stories from their campuses. Together, they demonstrated that public institutions provide affordable education, contribute positively to society, and conduct cutting edge research that saves lives, grows the economy, and improves our quality of life.

A few highlights from the campaign:

Affordability and Accessibility

Declining state funding has forced many public institutions to raise tuition – and yet, the cost to students is still far lower than at private universities. If you’re an in-state student at a public four-year institution, you’ll pay just $3,770 on average in tuition and fees per year after scholarships, grants, and tax benefits, compared with $14,220 at a private nonprofit university.

Student Debt  

The media has paid a great deal of attention to the student debt crisis in America. However, 79 percent of public university graduates finished their degrees with less than $30,000 in debt and 36 percent graduated with no debt at all.

Lifetime Earnings and Economic Mobility

Approximately 60 percent of all bachelors degrees in the U.S. were awarded by public universities. Having a college degree dramatically improves an individual’s prospects for employment, increases lifetime earnings, and even contributes to longer life expectancy and better health. On average, college graduates earn $32,000 more per year than individuals with just a high school diploma, and will end up with nearly $1 million more in lifetime earnings than high school graduates. These trends are likely to continue: 99 percent of jobs created since the recession went to individuals with at least some postsecondary education.

Contributions to Society

The benefits to society are just as important as the benefits to students themselves. Bachelor’s degree holders are twice as likely to volunteer, 3.5 times as likely to make charitable contributions, and vote at higher rates (75 percent) compared to their high school-educated peers (52 percent). And because college graduates tend to earn more, they contribute an additional $273,000 in taxes over the course of their lifetimes.

Cutting Edge Research

Public universities are drivers of discovery, transforming communities, economies, and whole societies. From agriculture to technology, public universities are creating new knowledge and producing innovations that benefit people around the world. Public institutions, particularly those in urban areas, are working with business and industry partners to develop a workforce that meets community and labor market needs.

How is your institution providing value to students, your community, and society? Continue the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #PublicUValues.

“An Unstoppable Force for Good”

“If you want to build a world class city, build a great university and wait 200 years.” University of Texas at Austin President Gregory Fenves kicked off the APLU Annual Meeting this week by quoting Former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s words from nearly 50 years ago. The impact of universities on our nation’s cities was highlighted repeatedly in this year’s annual meeting, as the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) executed a bold urban-focused agenda that encompassed everything from diversity issues to transformational change efforts.  In case you missed it – or if you did attend but want a quick summary – here are five highlights from our most important conversations at the APLU Annual Meeting:

  1. Freedom of Expression and Creating Safe Spaces

A recurring theme from this year’s meeting was the balance between preserving free speech and ensuring that all students have the opportunity to thrive in an inclusive campus environment. Contrary to the beliefs of many, free speech and safe spaces are not “either/or” propositions, but “both/and” solutions to some of our universities’ most pressing problems.


CSU Fullerton President Mildred Garcia moderates the panel on Balancing Freedom of Expression and Diversity on Campus

Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune urged us not to be “afraid of ideas on campus,” and argued that there is no better place than academia to discuss our differences. One of the dynamic speakers at the meeting was Mariah Watson, a recent graduate and former president of the Associated Students of University of California, Davis. She spoke passionately about the need for “brave spaces, not safe spaces” and urged university leaders not to shy away from discomfort but to prepare students to engage in discussion.

  1. Making Real Progress toward Diversity

According to NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak, we need to phase out poor metaphors like “pipeline” when discussing diversity. The pathway to academic careers in STEM and the biomedical sciences is more like a funnel: for example, underrepresented group talent has grown seven-fold over the past 20 years, but academia clearly hasn’t tapped that talent as diversity in the professoriate and research workforce continues to lag.


NIH Principal Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak highlights the lack of diversity in the biomedical research workforce

Most of our urban institutions recognize that diversity is important, but too often the message around diversity is that it’s the “right thing to do.” In fact, diversity is essential to excellence, and pushing multiple levers, such as the business case, will drive greater progress than we can achieve through goodwill alone.

  1. Learning from Failure

Earlier this year, Urban University shared a call for applications for Turning Points: From Setback to Success, a video competition modeled after the Fail Festival concept established by the international development community.  But the competition didn’t exactly go as planned. According to Vice President for Urban Initiatives, Shari Garmise, we could have done better to provide a safe enough space for universities to talk about failure, and we could have communicated our vision more clearly. That being said, the USU did receive some insightful video submissions which provided us with a window into the challenges that universities are facing, for example ensuring that students have adequate advising, and providing better supports for foster students. We’re hopeful that the next time we ask universities to share their failures, we’ll take into account lessons learned from our own.

  1. Disrupting the Norm Helps Universities Move Forward

Florida International University, Portland State University, and Georgia State University shared some of their efforts to disrupt “business as usual” at the university and achieve transformative change. FIU shared the results of their Mastery Math Gateways Project, which re-designed college algebra to improve pass rates and student success. ReThink PSU designed structured pathways for community college students to pursue a PSU degree. Georgia State used a combination of predictive analytics, learning communities, and “choice architecture” to keep students on track, reduce the time to degree, and help students avoid earning excessive credits. Georgia State managed to reduce the average number of credit hours at completion from a high of 141 in 2012-2013 to a new low of 133 in 2015-2016.

  1. Urban institutions dominated the awards ceremonies this year

The University of California, Riverside received the Project Degree Completion Award, Portland State University won the Peter Magrath Community Engagement Award, and Arizona State University was recognized with the Innovation and Economic Prosperity Award. Congratulations to these urban-serving institutions for their hard work and successful efforts!

As APLU President Peter McPherson noted in his remarks, “public universities are an unstoppable force for good.” The APLU Annual Meeting is a chance for university leaders to come together around our shared vision and goals, learn from each other, and take further steps toward change on campus and in our urban communities. If you were able to attend this year, thank you – and we hope you will join us next year in Washington, DC as well.



How IUPUI Achieved Excellence in Assessment

What does it take for an institution of higher education to be excellent in assessing student learning and using results to drive systemic, campus-wide improvements?  That question guided the development and implementation of the Excellence in Assessment (EIA) designation, which was launched last year by the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA), in conjunction with the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) and the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA).  Let me add another acronym to the mix:  IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis), which joined nine other colleges and universities in being recognized as part of the inaugural class of EIA designees.

Campuses seeking the EIA designation could apply as an Excellence Designee, in which institutions are committed to building (or rebuilding) a campus-wide culture and commitment to evidence-based results of student learning, or as a Sustained Excellence Designee, in which campuses have at least a 5-year demonstrated track record for integrated, campus-level assessment of student learning.  In either case, EIA designees had to demonstrate how their assessment efforts were linked to NILOA’s Transparency Framework.  The six components of the Framework are:  (1) student learning outcomes statements; (2) assessment plans; (3) assessment resources; (4) current assessment activities; (5) evidence of student learning; and (6) use of student learning evidence.iupui-logo

In IUPUI’s case, we were excited to be one of four institutions recognized as a Sustained Excellence Designee.  Thanks in large part to the leadership of Trudy Banta, my colleague for many years and predecessor at IUPUI, our campus has built and maintained a culture of assessment for both improvement and accountability purposes.  As a large, urban-serving institution of 30,000 students operating in a highly decentralized manner, it has taken several ingredients for us to sustain assessment excellence.  As we produced our EIA application and reflected on our approaches, the following have helped IUPUI in its assessment work:

  1. Leadership to develop and nurture a culture of evidence, assessment, and improvement on campus. At IUPUI, such leadership is both centrally sponsored and distributed throughout our many academic, student support, and administrative units.  The Office of Planning and Institutional Improvement, working collaboratively with many others across campus, helps to lead and coordinate these efforts.
  1. Clear goals for student learning and success, including the curricular and, in many cases, co-curricular and community contexts. For IUPUI, these are manifested in our Principles of Undergraduate Learning, Principles of Graduate and Professional Learning, and Principles of Co-Curricular Learning, each of which articulate collectively what we want students to know and be able to do as graduates of our campus.
  1. Systems, processes, and an infrastructure to support assessment efforts, including the ability to influence, convene, and engage others. For us, this includes a campus-wide Program Review and Assessment Committee (PRAC), which requests annual unit-level assessment reports that get folded into an overall campus assessment report.  It also relies on a robust data infrastructure, in our case capably led by our Office of Institutional Research and Decision Support.
  1. Ongoing involvement of stakeholders associated with assessment, including a focus on providing professional development for assessment. At IUPUI, this starts with faculty and extends to students, administrators, and colleagues across campus, including those from student affairs, international affairs, and community engagement, among others.  We award modest grants for assessment-related projects through PRAC.  And as part of the EIA application process, we convened community members to share feedback on our campus-wide assessment processes.
  1. Creating and using assessment approaches that make sense, given the campus context. For our complex, decentralized campus, a one-size-fits-all approach is impractical.  Therefore, IUPUI has focused on building the leadership capacity for assessment across campus, promoting an evidence-based, decision-making culture, and fostering an environment where a willingness to experiment with various assessment methods has been encouraged.

While honored to have received the Sustained Excellence designation, we also recognize that IUPUI’s assessment efforts are, after all these years, still a work-in-progress.  The EIA application process provided a vehicle to reflect and document our good work, but also an opportunity to identify ongoing areas for improvement, including what many institutions struggle to accomplish: the consistent use of assessment results to drive change across campus.

To learn more about the EIA program, or to apply for the 2017 class, please visit:

hundley_stephenStephen P. Hundley is Professor of Organizational Leadership and Senior Advisor to the Chancellor for Planning and Institutional Improvement at IUPUI.   He is the chair of the annual Assessment Institute in Indianapolis, now the nation’s oldest and largest event focused exclusively on outcomes assessment in higher education.  In 2017, he will succeed Trudy Banta as editor of Assessment Update, an award-winning bi-monthly periodical from Jossey-Bass/Wiley.  Hundley gratefully acknowledges Banta and Susan Kahn for their efforts in leading the team responsible for IUPUI’s EIA application. 

Cal State Fullerton’s Dash Toward Student Success

Cal State Fullerton has increased graduation rates, improved student persistence and dramatically lowered the student achievement gap since the creation of a university-wide Strategic Plan four years ago. While the success is attributable to a myriad of factors, the innovative Student Success Dashboard is a foundational element linked to the advancement of our university.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Student Success Dashboard, it is a powerful tool used at CSUF that provides us with real-time tracking on the academic progress of all 40,000-plus enrolled students. The database displays information in a manner that is current, comprehensive and actionable. We can check degree completion status, sort data based on demographics (including, but not limited to, college and major, ethnicity, first-time freshmen, transfer students) and measure four-year graduation rates. Moreover, with student contact information readily available in the system, we can easily and immediately connect with students who we feel may need support on the journey to graduation. In sum, we are able to empower, guide and support our students, helping them remain on a timely track in the pursuit of a degree.




The development of this database was an enormous undertaking that required collaborative efforts from multiple units across the university. In 2012, following CSUF President Mildred García’s Convocation address that discussed the graduation rates, the Division of Information Technology (I.T.) and the Division of Academic Affairs, or more specifically Institutional Research & Analytical Studies (IRAS), began to meet with the hope of developing a user-friendly analytical tool that could assist in tracking and improving student success. After a period filled with numerous prototypes, I.T. and IRAS constructed a functioning model and continued along the creative path. During this time, they defined performance indicators and designed the dashboard data tables and charts, among other things. Following the initial stages of creation, the Division of Student Affairs joined the process to provide additional guidance and feedback. We introduced the developers to our vision of how the Student Success Dashboard could serve as a complementary and informative tool for our innovative Student Success Teams.


The work that occurred on this project among staff throughout campus was collaborative in every sense. While partnerships during development processes can often come with challenges, we experienced very few of them. Leadership and staff members within each unit helped advance the creation of the Student Success Dashboard by understanding roles and responsibilities as well as by communicating effectively. Everyone involved respected one another, actively engaged in constructive conversation and listened to varying ideas. Moreover, we all realized the strength of teamwork and understood the common end goal of boosting student success.


In closing, this invaluable invention has truly transformed the way we support our students. All of our Student Success Teams, which are each chaired by an Associate Dean and comprised of an Assistant Dean, Career Specialist, Graduation Specialist, Retention Specialist, College Staff and Faculty Advisors, have benefitted tremendously from its creation. We have been able to cut our achievement gap from 13 percent to 6.4 percent, and in 2016 over 10,000 students received a degree from CSUF. As I reflect on the efforts taken to build CSUF into a comprehensive national model for student success, I am so grateful for the staff that worked diligently to put the Student Success Dashboard together. If you choose to follow a similar path, the one piece of advice I would give is to remember your students. With every decision made during the development stages, remember the students who you will support, encourage and help succeed. If this is your focus, everything else should fall into place.

beanesDr. Berenecea Johnson Eanes enters her fifth year as Vice President for Student Affairs at California State University, Fullerton and 28th year as a professional in higher education. Responsible for running a division that supports the personal, social and academic development of a diverse institution with more than 40,000 students, Dr. Eanes has served as an executive at several universities, including John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Hamilton College, Columbia and Morehouse College. Dr. Eanes, a member of the Presidential Cabinet at CSUF and leader within multiple student affairs professional associations, earned a Ph.D. in Social Work from Clark Atlanta University, a Master of Social Work from Boston University and a Bachelor of Science in Public Health from Dillard University in New Orleans.


Small Changes, Big Results: How “Re-imagining the First Year” Is Changing the Way We View Student Success

rfy-postcardThe undergraduate students of the 21st century in America will include significantly greater numbers of low income, first generation and students of color.  Many of these students will not be as well prepared for college as some previous students.  Yet it’s not simply how many students are college-ready.  In the rapidly-changing circumstances and demographics of this new century, a companion question will be:  How many institutions are student-ready?  How institutions react to this new generation of students, particularly low income, first generation, and students of color, will not only determine how many of these students succeed; it will determine how many of our institutions succeed.  With students paying more than state pays for higher education, success for our institutions will be inextricably linked to the success of our students.  But the stakes are even higher.  Student success will determine our success as a nation, as a society, and as a democracy.

The first year of college is a critical period that shapes students’ impressions of the university and their place in the campus community. It’s when they forge relationships with faculty and other students, explore majors and career pathways, and develop skills that will help them persist through graduation.

The importance of the first year is even greater for students who are the first in their family to go to college or who have been historically underserved by higher education. With little prior exposure to academia, they’re not sure what to expect and even minor academic struggles may lead them to feel that they don’t belong in college. Consequently, the gap in graduation rate between these groups and their traditional student peers remains large.

Universities have developed dozens of strategies and programs to aid students in navigating their first year, and many are backed by evidence for their effectiveness. Yet the problems of retention and graduation persist. Why?

That’s where Re-Imagining the First Year (RFY) comes in. Our aim is to redesign the first year of college to ensure greater success for all students, with a special emphasis on those historically underserved by higher education, such as low-income, first-generation, and students of color. We believe that changing the college experience for students during this critical first year is key to achieving the goal of increasing postsecondary degree attainment.

We’ve convened 44 colleges and universities from all over the country and asked them to undertake evidence-based interventions in four areas: institutional intentionality, curriculum, faculty and staff, and students. The 44 institutions are collaborating as one massive learning community, sharing their progress in real time and catalyzing change on a grand scale. The project is supported by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USA Funds, and led by my co-director Jo Arney and me.

So what does that collaboration look like, exactly? So far we have:

  • Built a repository of promising practices, which are then tested and refined. Each practice comes with annotations about implementation strategies, common problems, and effective solutions. These practices include everything from block scheduling to gateway course reform, intrusive advising, predictive analytics, and many more.
  • Developed a robust online platform where members of the consortium can “work out loud,” crowdsourcing solutions and engages with each other on a weekly basis around current activities. So far, we are astounded by the level of commitment and frequency of communications among our participating institutions.
  • Developed a set of progression metrics for measuring how well students are doing in their first year.
  • Designing a new set of first year courses which are interdisciplinary, collaboratively built, with highly engaging content and a civic focus.  
  • Engaged national experts on first year reform to provide advising to sub-sets of institutions within the consortium. We have four national advisors, each with a cohort of 11 institutions. Each consultant is in charge of helping their institutions while working in concert with the others – a strategy that is both efficient and customized enough to provide quality support to campuses.

One of the things that we’ve learned from this effort is that innovations don’t need to be complicated or costly to be effective. Take one example of an intervention that worked: revising campus communications with students. Based on the work and presentations from David Yeager, a psychologist from the University of Texas at Austin, some of our campuses noted that the tone of their academic probation letters could be discouraging students from returning after their first year, sending a signal that “you don’t belong here.” The text of the letters was changed to become more positive and supportive, communicating to students that they needed to take action, but that probation was a process – and that it was still possible for them to succeed. The data is still coming in but preliminary results suggest that the strategy has indeed succeeded in encouraging more first year students to seek assistance, talk to their advisors, and remain in school.

We are not yet finished with the first year in our three year project, so we have a great deal of work ahead of us. But I hope I can continue to provide you with updates as our work continues.   After all, this is not a drill – students are on campuses right now who need their institutions’ support to make it to graduation. As much as we love pilots and tests, we know that ultimately these promising innovations need to be brought to scale if we are to truly make a difference. And we can make a difference. In the words of George Mehaffy, AASCU’s Vice President of Academic Leadership and Change, “let us embrace a philosophy that we have the power to make changes that will alter the lives of so many of our students…nothing is written, until we write it together.”

Follow the Re-Imagining the First Year project on Twitter at @RFYaascu

rellisRobin Ellis is the Operations Director for the Re-Imagining the First Year (RFY) initiative at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). Robin comes to AASCU from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi where she worked in the capacity of a Development officer, Grant Administrator and Project Manager for more than 13 years. Robin received her Bachelor’s degree in international relations from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas; her master’s in public administration from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi; and is currently a doctoral student in higher education leadership at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

Holistic Review in Graduate Admissions: What We Need to Know

The pathway to becoming a scientist leads through graduate school, and graduate admissions committees are the gatekeepers. How do they determine who will be successful in a research career and who will not? Admission processes vary widely by discipline and are often opaque, but we do know that the top two strongest predictors of admission to graduate school in general are GRE scores and the selectivity of the student’s undergraduate institution.

Though these factors may determine admission, do they really predict success in graduate school and beyond? The Educational Testing Service (ETS), which produces the GRE, cautions departments against relying too heavily on GRE scores alone, stating that the test “does not and cannot measure all the qualities that are important in predicting success in graduate study,” such as motivation, grit, and a sense of curiosity that can drive scientific discovery. Furthermore, GRE scores correlate strongly with race, ethnicity and gender, placing underrepresented students at a disadvantage in the process and potentially shutting out those with potential to excel.

An emerging solution is holistic review, a university admissions strategy that assesses an applicant’s unique experiences alongside traditional measures of academic achievement such as grades and test scores. Evidence supports the use of holistic review in undergraduate admissions and in the health professions, but the extent to which graduate programs are using the practice (and using it right) is less well-known.  Universities and research funders like the NIH and NSF have become increasingly aware of the role of admissions in shaping the future scientific workforce, making this topic ripe for further inquiry and discussion.laboratory-385349_1920

On November 3, from 12:00-1:00 p.m. Eastern Time USU, APLU and the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) will host a webinar on holistic review in graduate admissions to explore what we know and what we don’t know about the practice, and how we can fill critical gaps in evidence. Because of the urgent need for diversity in science fields, we will highlight some of the things schools might look for during the admissions process that predict achievement in these disciplines. We’ll also talk about a proposed pilot of holistic review in the graduate school context. If you’re interested in admissions, diversity in STEM, or graduate student success generally, this webinar is for you.

Speakers include:

  • Courtney Ferrell Aklin, Ph.D., Chief of Staff, National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities
  • Julia Kent, Ph.D., Assistant Vice President for Communications, Advancement and Best Practices at the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS). She has conducted research on a broad range of topics in graduate education, including PhD career pathways, diversity issues, and graduate admissions processes, as well as a Hobsons-supported initiative on holistic review in graduate admissions.
  • Ambika Mathur, Ph.D. Associate Provost for Scientific Workforce Training, Development and Diversity, and Dean of the Graduate School at Wayne State University. Dr. Mathur has worked extensively to develop a diverse workforce at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. She serves as a PI on a five year $21 million NIH grant to develop a pipeline for underrepresented students into graduate programs (Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity, BUILD).
  • Keivan G. Stassun, Ph.D., Stevenson Endowed Professor of Physics & Astronomy and Senior Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Research at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Stassun is also founding director of the Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD Bridge Program, through which Fisk has become the top producer of African American master’s degrees in physics and Vanderbilt has become the top producer of PhDs to underrepresented minorities in physics, astronomy, and materials science. He is co-author of the Nature article A Test that Fails, which describes how reducing emphasis on the GRE and increasing attention toward other qualities that predict success in graduate school will improve diversity in STEM fields.

We hope you can join us on November 3 for an engaging conversation on the opportunities and challenges of using holistic review to strengthen diversity in the scientific research workforce. Click here to register


Work Smarter, Not Harder: Three Suggestions for Promoting Technology Usage on Campus

Ever since the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, technology has been used to disrupt, advance, and transform the education sector. In recent years, an entire industry has developed around ed tech, with dozens of conferences and events around the world each year. The pace of innovation is accelerating, and universities are now presented with a dizzying array of software platforms, devices, and applications that promise to guarantee student and faculty success.

In the face of such abundance, it’s important for university leaders to think critically about how specific technologies will be used, and how faculty will be incentivized to embrace them. Such as: what do you want the new technology to accomplish? Will it advance your institution’s mission? And do you have enough support from faculty and staff to implement the technology effectively?

To help university leaders navigate this challenging process, a working group of faculty from six USU institutions came together to identify strategies for advancing the use of technology on campus. In a leadership brief, the faculty working group presented three recommendations for stepping up adoption of new classroom technologies.

Recommendation 1: Incentivize Faculty

The working group found that providing a range of incentives such as awards, stipends, and free access to events encouraged faculty to explore new technologies and fostered a culture of change. Addressing barriers to technology adoption helped motivate faculty as well. For example, providing extra technical support and streamlining approaches for ease of use helped faculty get involved.

Recommendation 2: Engage Faculty in the Technology Decision-Making Process

Every university has its own technology governance structure, but only some of the institutions represented by members of the working group had formal processes in place to gather feedback from faculty. Developing clearly-defined roles, responsibilities, and structures for shared governance may help to engage faculty in making technology-related decisions that will affect their work.

Recommendation 3: Ensure Appropriate Policies and Practices are in Place

It is clear that implementing a new technology in a haphazard way, without sufficient resources invested in the right places, is a recipe for disaster. Institutions that were most successful at promoting technology usage had clear resource commitments and transparent policies for allocating those resources. Questions to consider include:

  • Is there a centralized policy and set of guidelines for technology usage on campus?
  • Is staff support available to help faculty develop online courses?
  • Does the university have a technology mission statement in place that emphasizes commitment to using technology to advance teaching and knowledge creation?

Photo Credit: Florida International University

As an example of successful technology implementation, the working group highlighted Florida International University’s (FIU) Mastery Math Gateways project. The FIU College of Arts and Sciences re-designed college algebra courses to be more “high tech & high touch,” requiring students to use computers to work through math problems but supplementing the technology with peer mentoring support. The results were dramatic: the face-to-face algebra class increased its pass rate from 33% in 2010-2011 to 64% in 2013-2014, and the online algebra course increased its pass rate from 10% to 65% over the same period.

Regardless of the chosen technology or method of implementation, any university can benefit by developing a sound strategy for promoting technology usage on a consistent basis. Developing incentives, creating structures for shared governance, and establishing policies and practices that align with the institution’s mission can help universities achieve transformative and lasting change.

Further reading:

11 Ways to Increase Technology Usage on Campus

Best Practices for Deploying Lecture Capture Campus Wide

To Accelerate Student Success, Eliminate Course Bottlenecks

Imagine you are a senior in college, preparing to register for your final semester of courses. You have worked hard for the past few years and are looking forward to the day when you can walk across the stage, accept your diploma, and begin the next chapter of your life. You’ve looked at the catalog and written down all the courses you’ll need to finish your degree on time. You’re ready.

There’s just one problem: you can’t get in. Only one of the remaining courses needed for your major is being offered this semester. And that required science course that you withdrew from as a sophomore and need to re-take is nearly full – the only open sections conflict with your work schedule.

Frustrated, you sign up for just enough electives to maintain your full-time status. “Next year I’ll graduate,” you think, “if I can afford it.”

Unfortunately, many students find themselves stuck in the same bottlenecks, unable to proceed along the pathway to graduation. “Bottlenecks” are broadly defined as anything that impedes a student’s progress toward degree completion. Students trapped in these choke points waste more than just their time – an extra semester means more tuition to pay and higher debt upon graduation. Course bottlenecks have a disproportionate impact on low-income and nontraditional students, many of whom are balancing work and family responsibilities in addition to school.

What causes bottlenecks?

A working group report from the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) identified several high-risk conditions that contribute to course bottlenecks. Restrictions on physical space and limited resources were obvious culprits, but scheduling preferences of faculty and students played a large role as well. Introductory “gateway” courses often caused bottlenecks, as did specialized courses that were infrequently or inconsistently offered. One glaring indicator of a problem class is the DFW rate (D/Fail/Withdraw). Courses with a DFW rate above 15 percent were first to fill up, as new enrollments competed with repeat course takers. Overall, just 5 to 10 percent of courses cause the majority of bottlenecks, making this a fixable problem.


How do bottlenecks impact institutions?

Although bottlenecks cause myriad problems for students, they take their toll on the university as well. High failure rates in gateway courses contribute to overall institutional drop-out rates, which impacts the university’s bottom line. Forcing students to take classes they don’t need just to maintain their enrollment or qualify for financial aid is costly for the institution, as it must pay for space and instruction using funds that would be more efficiently invested elsewhere. When faculty are burdened with too many teaching responsibilities, they have less time available to contribute to the university’s other important missions of research and service.


Fortunately, the working group concluded that there are a number of things university leaders can do to reduce or eliminate course bottlenecks on their campuses:

  1.  Lower DFW rates. Some strategies that universities may consider are redesigning courses for active learning, establishing bridge programs to accelerate student academic preparedness, and adding additional support services such as learning assistants and early alert systems.
  2. Fix scheduling conflicts. By proactively budgeting additional funds for high-demand courses, departments can easily add new sections when needed to meet student demand. Providing flexible options such as online, hybrid, or blended courses will give students more opportunities to take a class without disrupting work or family commitments.
  3. Upgrade policies and practices. Policies that limit the number of times a student can re-take a course will relieve some of the pain, and guide struggling students into their advisor’s office to explore new majors and pathways that may be a better fit. Establishing formal partnerships with nearby universities and community colleges can give students more options for taking required courses if those courses are full at their home institutions.

It’s important to remember that bottlenecks are moving targets. Course demand can increase and decrease rapidly in response to demographic shifts, new degree requirements, and changing student enrollment. But by planning ahead and responding quickly to challenges that arise, universities can help more students graduate on time.



Students Helping Students: Using a Peer Approach to Improve College Enrollment and Completion

She looked at me with the common expression of the day—a combination of “I’m lost” and slight panic, “I’m gonna be late!” Truth is, I expected, and even looked forward to seeing and assisting disoriented students. It was the morning of Monday, August 22nd, the first day of the fall term, so I knew our campus would be teeming with new students. Yet something different happened that day: I recognized her! And thankfully, I remembered quickly enough to utter, “I know you. You’re part of College Summit; right?” She nodded, smiled, and sighed with relief. Jasmin and I officially met, and I walked her halfway to her class and pointed her in the right direction.

Just like that, two important parts of my life intersected. I began working at Florida International University (FIU) five years ago, drawn to the diverse student population and the institutional commitment to equity. And I started volunteering with College Summit four years ago, drawn to its dedication to transforming the lives of low-income youth by increasing their college attendance and completion. Like many others, I’ve long been disturbed by inequitable college-going and completion rates in the U.S. So, when an FIU faculty member told me about College Summit, I was immediately drawn to the chance to play a small role in leveling the playing field.


One College Summit initiative, held several times per summer, entails inviting rising high school seniors—called “peer leaders”—to a 4-day, 3-night college prep bootcamp of sorts, held on college campuses across the country. That’s where I had met Jasmin in 2015. Students, volunteers, and College Summit staff stay in dorm rooms and engage in a variety of college prep activities. Volunteers serve as either writing coaches, helping students craft a personal statement, or as college coaches, helping them generate a list of colleges to apply to.

College Summit recognizes that many, if not most, of its peer leaders will be the first in their families to attend college. Many are not yet convinced college is within their reach, that they can afford it, that they deserve to go, that they can be successful there, and that colleges are interested in students like them. In addition to the writing and college coaching, veteran peer leaders and workshop facilitators share candid, inspiring testimonials that start replacing (or at least juxtaposing) students’ apprehensive narratives with empowering, hopeful ones.

This past summer, I learned that College Summit launched a program called PeerForward, in which teams of high school juniors and seniors are prepared to plan activities and workshops to foster a “college-going culture” in their schools. High school students themselves are empowered to help their classmates get to college.


It doesn’t surprise me at all that students excel as peer coaches. We’ve seen it at FIU, home to the country’s largest learning assistant (LA) program. LAs are undergraduates who excelled in certain courses, take a seminar about effective instruction, and then help their fellow students master the course content and competencies. This fall alone, about 300 LAs are working within and outside of our classrooms to help their peers learn. And like College Summit, we recognize that our students’ learning and performance are shaped by complex factors. LAs therefore serve as informal mentors, too, and as evidence to our students that success is attainable.

In my current administrative role, I have fewer and fewer opportunities to work with students one-on-one. At College Summit, I sit beside 7 to 10 rising high school seniors, one at a time, slowly earn a bit of their trust, and hear them tell their stories and describe their aspirations. I’m reminded that while U.S. higher education has made a great deal of progress with respect to equity, we still have a long way to go. When I see Jasmin bustling into the library, I’m reminded that the work we do every day matters a great deal, and my commitment to higher education is renewed.

isis_headshotIsis Artze-Vega, Ed.D. is Assistant Vice President for Teaching & Learning at Florida International University in Miami, Florida








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