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5 Things Universities Can Do to Engage Faculty in Student Success

As the summer draws to a close, you and your colleagues may be contemplating how you will achieve your goals for the upcoming academic year, and it’s likely that improving student retention, graduation, and success is high on your agenda.

If so, you may want to spend some time thinking about your adjunct faculty.

Here’s why: more than half of faculty at U.S. 4-year colleges and universities are part-time, non-tenure track employees. Furthermore, the percentage of faculty who are part-time is even higher at large, urban-serving institutions. Your students will spend just as much – if not more – time interacting with adjuncts as they will with full professors.  It is therefore essential that your contingent faculty engage with students effectively and provide high-quality teaching that will foster student success.

This is the conclusion of a recent leadership brief produced by a working group of faculty members interested in improving student performance. The working group came together as part of the Collaborating for Change initiative to discuss effective strategies for faculty engagement. They identified three high priority areas:

  • Recognizing and rewarding faculty at all levels;
  • Providing professional development opportunities to all faculty; and
  • Monitoring faculty participation in professional development activities.

Very few institutions extend teaching awards and other incentives to adjunct faculty, even though these instructors reach large numbers of students. Although adjuncts are not excluded from professional development opportunities, the circumstances of their employment present barriers to participation. The most significant are lack of time and scheduling issues, as many adjuncts work at more than one university or have other outside employment. Some university leaders may not be fully aware of these challenges, because they are not collecting data on adjuncts or monitoring their involvement in professional development opportunities.

Data from the Gallup-Purdue Index  show that students are more motivated to pursue their academic goals when they have a caring, supportive professor who gets them excited about learning. Unfortunately, only 14 percent of the 30,000 graduates surveyed said they’d had a professor who personally encouraged them. These findings suggest that ongoing support, recognition, and professional development are essential to engaging all faculty in student success.

Action Steps

The working group of faculty members recommended that universities:

  1. Extend awards structures to include all faculty;
  2. Develop new and creative incentive opportunities;
  3. Invest resources in teaching and learning centers to support all faculty;
  4. Expand professional development opportunities to include all faculty; and
  5. Build capacity to monitor professional development outcomes.

As an example, the University of Central Florida’s Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning developed a program to increase retention and teaching effectiveness of their part-time faculty. The program was designed around the hectic schedules of adjuncts and included an online program as well as in-person workshops and retreats. The university also invests $500,000 each year to support faculty awards and recognition alone – and it spends far more on professional development activities.

Additional Resources


There are a number of ongoing initiatives devoted to faculty development, and resources from these efforts may help universities move forward with the Collaborating for Change recommendations. Achieving the Dream, a non-profit that advocates institutional change at community colleges, just launched a pilot project to “increase adjunct faculty engagement in their campuses’ completion agendas,” and lessons learned may be applicable to 4-year universities as well. The Delphi Project, a partnership with AAC&U and the USC Rossier School of Education, is also a source of data and evidence-based tools for supporting non-tenure track faculty.


A Medical Student’s Perspective on Holistic Review

As the healthcare landscape in America continues to change after the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, we are seeing an even more diverse group of patients seeking care across the nation. As rapidly as these demographics are changing, however, there is still progress to be made in diversity of healthcare providers who treat these patients. For instance, although 13 percent of Americans are of African descent, Black physicians only make up about 4% of all physicians in this country.

One way to increase diversity in the health professions is to change how health professional schools are admitting students. A new strategy, holistic review, has emerged as a potential solution to the health care workforce diversity problem. As a current medical student that has had the privilege of attending incredibly diverse public schools while growing up in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, alongside students from various socioeconomic, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, I can appreciate the value that health professional schools will gain by increasing their use of holistic review.

Holistic review allows admissions committees to evaluate applicants more broadly than in a traditional admissions process, which focuses primarily on grades and test scores. With holistic review, admissions committees balance their consideration of a candidate’s experiences with the candidate’s grades and test scores, ultimately accepting and enrolling a more diverse class of students. And there is evidence to suggest that holistic review works. In a report published by Urban Universities for HEALTH, it was found that health professional schools practicing holistic review reported increased student body diversity, without any corresponding decline in student academic success.

The opportunity to grow up in such a diverse environment has made me appreciate the benefit of my ability to connect with individuals whose backgrounds are different from my own. Communicating with others who have different experiences and perspectives, withholding judgment, and truly listening to and appreciating our different opinions is a skill I could not have developed without exposure to diversity. In the medical school environment, diversity brings a richness to educational experiences that cannot be quantified. Cultural competency can be taught firsthand through interpersonal experiences with classmates as early as years one and two of medical school – before any significant interactions with patients occur.

Physicians, who are experts in their fields, need to be able to translate their knowledge into patient care in a way that is unbiased, and takes into consideration the patient’s background and personal experiences. What good is it to prescribe a medication to a patient that he or she cannot afford, and therefore will not take? How would you be helping a patient from a different cultural background, who is uncomfortable taking certain medications, if you ignore her and prescribe them anyway? Will you simply deem the patient “not compliant” and terminate her from your care?  The best time to address problems with future patient encounters is at the beginning of training, when knowledge and behaviors are still malleable.

In order for all students to have fruitful discussions on patient care and cultural competency, it is important to allow students with an array of experiences to have “a seat at the table.” Diversifying the physician workforce will reduce health disparities, which in turn will reduce healthcare spending.  In order to create that workforce, medical schools cannot simply continue admitting traditional medical school applicants. Medical schools must begin to actively seek, recruit, and enroll highly-qualified students from a wide variety of backgrounds and with a range of life experiences.

I think it is safe to say that we all want healthcare professionals with good knowledge of science and strong analytical skills overseeing our care, but don’t we also want providers who have a proven track record of dedication, perseverance, worldly experiences, and compassion? If these qualities are valued during the admissions process, we will find students who possess them. After all, in the beginning of our medical training when we take the Hippocratic Oath, we acknowledge, swear to uphold, and “remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.”


Valerie Pierre is currently a fourth year medical student at Howard University College of Medicine. She hails from the Washington, D.C. suburbs and is passionate about public health, health policy and advocacy. She is dedicated to leading a career that will allow her to make a significant impact in medical education and reducing health disparities on a global level.



Urban Universities Excel at Improving Student Retention and Degree Completion


Image Credit: John Walker

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) named four urban-serving institutions as finalists last week for the APLU 2016 Project Degree Completion Award: California State University, Fresno, Cleveland State University, the University of California, Riverside and Wayne State University. The competition identifies institutions that have made significant progress toward improving degree completion on their campuses, and rewards universities that have developed innovative practices for retaining students.

Although increasing the number of students who attend college is an important goal, degree completion is just as essential. Without a degree, students cannot reap the long-term benefits of their education such as advanced career opportunities and higher incomes. In addition, individuals with student debt but no degree are more likely to default on their loans.

APLU will recognize the finalists at the 2016 APLU Annual Meeting on November 13-15 in Austin, Texas. The winning institution will receive $15,000 to magnify the impact of its degree completion efforts.

So what are these institutions doing? Each has invested in systemic programs to ramp up student success, including:

  • California State University, Fresno’s Graduation Rate Initiative, which uses year-specific interventions such as learning communities to improve degree completion. The university has increased its six-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time students by 10 percent since the program began in 2009.
  • Cleveland State University’s CSU Student Success Plan provides students with detailed degree maps to help them navigate the courses they need to graduate on time. CSU has experienced a 6 percent increase in six-year graduation rates among first-time, full-time students.
  • University of California, Riverside’s Graduation Rate Task Force has reengineered the university’s introductory mathematics courses to help more students succeed, and uses advising tools to target students at risk of stopping out or dropping out. UC Riverside has boosted its five-year graduation rate by 11 percent since the task force was launched in 2013.
  • Wayne State University’s Undergraduate Success Initiatives, a set of 10 reinforcing programs, includes strategies to address advising, financial literacy, and community college transfer issues. The university’s graduation rate has increased 9 percent since the initiatives were launched.

How is your institution working to increase degree completion? What are some of the lessons learned that you could share with our USU coalition? Contribute to the discussion in the comments section below…

Building a More Diverse Biomedical Research Workforce

“There just aren’t enough minority scholars in the STEM pipeline.”

“Underrepresented students get so many scholarship offers, there’s no way our university can compete.”

“Until we fix our broken K-12 educational system, there’s little universities can do to expand minority student participation in science.”

Do any of these statements sound familiar? They are common refrains among higher education leaders, used to explain why – despite years of effort and millions of dollars in investment – underrepresented student participation in science fields continues to lag. The problem with these assumptions, however, is that they aren’t grounded in evidence.

One look at the numbers illuminates the depth of the diversity dilemma in higher education. According to recent data, only 8.5 percent of doctoral degrees were awarded to underrepresented individuals, and only 4 percent of postdoctoral scholars in STEM fields were from underrepresented groups. The lack of minority representation is concerning, especially since the United States is expected to become a majority-minority nation within the next few decades.

Diversity graphs

This persistent under-representation of minorities, women, people with disabilities, and the socioeconomically disadvantaged is extremely troubling. Diversity in the STEM and biomedical science workforce is critical for conducting quality research that will enhance our nation’s competitiveness. Studies across disciplines have demonstrated that diverse teams are able to solve complex problems more quickly and effectively than homogeneous ones. A diverse health and biomedical workforce aids the production of treatments and cures that are applicable to all patient populations while also enhancing patient satisfaction and trust, leading to more equitable health outcomes.

Although individual universities are making an effort to diversify research talent, promising innovations could benefit from broader testing. A stronger evidence base for successful interventions will enable universities to bring these strategies to scale and magnify their impact.

Yesterday, the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU)/Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) released a report intended to catalyze the process of improving evidence for successful diversity efforts. This report, the product of collaboration among 70 research experts at 28 universities, proposes actions that, if undertaken, will contribute to the body of knowledge that university leaders need to drive change across their institutions. Ultimately, this evidence base has the potential to alter how universities do business, increasing investment in practices that work and phasing out those that do not.

The proposed research actions will require deep collaboration across universities, academic medical centers, and national stakeholders. But as the opening statements above make clear, the lack of evidence is a significant barrier to change. We can do better – and these research actions are a good first step.

Read the full report

Leaders and entrepreneurs gather to tackle urban challenges at CEOs for Cities National Meeting

As a university leader, how can you be sure that students are getting the skills they need to keep up with the rapidly-changing job market? What role should universities play in reducing inequality in the community? How can universities collaborate with the private sector to create a more inclusive economy in the city?

These are just a few of the questions that will be on the table at the CEOs for Cities annual National Meeting in Columbus, Ohio on September 27-29. CEOs for Cities is a national city-learning network. We curate smart ideas, benchmark city success through our City Vitals, connect cross-sector leaders through our network of City Clusters, catalyze collaborative change through our City Dividends, and accelerate progress through our Prize Challenges.

Columbus is a smart, open city with a resilient spirit and a surging economy. Like most cities, however, Columbus is challenged to align its economic growth with inclusion so that no citizen or neighborhood is left behind. At the National Meeting, CEOs for Cities will explore how urban communities are working to achieve inclusive economic growth and opportunities for widespread economic success.

The National Meeting will feature a number of keynote speakers, including:

  • Mark Kvamme, co-founder and partner of the venture capital investment firm Drive Capital, who will tell us how to find innovation and opportunity in unexpected places.Mark Kvamme
  • Angela Glover Blackwell, President and CEO of PolicyLink, a national research and action institute focused on using public policies to create conditions that benefit everyone, especially low-income communities and communities of color. Her speech will focus on pathways to social equity and economic inclusion.Angela Glover Blackwell
  • Gabriel Metcalf, President and CEO of SPUR (San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association), which works across the political spectrum to develop solutions to key urban challenges. Gabriel will share his ideas for a new urban agenda and strategies for achieving economic prosperity.Gabriel Metcalf

This will be an exciting conference with many opportunities for university leaders to engage with their peers in business and industry around our shared goals for urban communities. To register, visit For more information, contact CEOs for Cities at 216-687-4704 or email

No Small Change: How Financial Indicators Impact Student Success

canvasGetting a college degree these days requires a substantial financial investment, one which raises the stakes for many students struggling to graduate. Seemingly minor setbacks like a missed financial aid deadline or a dropped course can derail a student’s progress, and many students find that there’s an unbridgeable gap between the funding they receive and their actual expenses. But these bumps in the road don’t just impact students – they can have significant consequences for the university’s bottom line as well.

What are the biggest risk factors for students dropping out? And what can institutions do to keep students on track? To find out, five USU institutions formed a working group to collectively explore the financial indicators of student success. What they found clearly shows that universities have a lot more work ahead of them. However, opportunities for positive change are just around the corner.

As expected, unmet financial need played a huge role in determining student success. Across the five schools, half of all entering students had unmet need – a figure which increased up to 99% at some of the institutions. This unmet need had a ripple effect on other student decisions, such as choosing to work full-time while in school, dropping courses due to non-payment, or taking too many credits at once.  Given the scope of the problem, the working group recommended that institutions find ways to provide additional financial support.

Surprisingly, many students were failing to meet routine financial aid deadlines or complete the FAFSA on time. This finding made it clear that universities could do more to get information about these critical tasks to students earlier, before they became a problem. The working group recommended that universities aggressively promote financial deadlines and make aid information more accessible. In addition, offering financial literacy courses for credit that count toward a degree would encourage students to take these courses, manage their personal finances, and make concrete progress toward graduation.

Spring Commencement 2013

Photo credit: Georgia State University

Finally, the working group learned that each of their institutions was tracking different metrics and the types of interventions they were using varied widely (of the 66 academic, social, and administrative strategies used to promote retention and graduation, only 26 were common across all five universities). This is a clear opportunity for universities to collaborate and learn from each other. Knowing which strategies are most effective and collecting the data to back them up will catalyze positive change and continuous improvement across campuses – and help more students make it to the finish line.

Additional findings and recommendations from the working group can be found in the Leadership Brief, Financial Indicators of Student Success. The collaborating institutions were:

  • Temple University
  • Florida International University (FIU)
  • Georgia State University (GSU)
  • Portland State University (PSU)
  • University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)

Success for Adult Learners at University: An On-Line Toolkit

Collaborating-for-change-630x500As part of Collaborating for Change, we are releasing a series of resources to advance student success. One of the most under-recognized and growing segments of the student population is the Adult learner. Whether they transfer from two schools, return after a hiatus, or start later, understanding who they are and what they need challenges many universities.

Portland State University and the University of Akron, two Collaborating for Change Institutions with large adult learner populations, worked together to develop an on-line tool kit to document and share what they have learned along the way.  The provide recommendations and resources  to evaluate and manage adult learners programs (e.g. a project management guide), to assess and track these students (e.g. degree maps)  and resources on how to build partnerships and communities across campus and with vendors.

As a teaser, we are sharing one recommendation from each area examined. Check out the toolkit the on-line toolkit here to see the rest. You can also access a downloadable summary here.

Evaluation & Program Management Recommendation

  • Assess institutional capacity to disrupt accepted practices that support adult student needs

Assessment & Tracking Management Recommendation

  • Help adult students plan and track their own progress towards degree completion and skills mastery with tools that make information easily accessible and understandable.

Community-building and Partnership Recommendation

  • Include assessment of relevant vendors and community partners in early planning stages


Any insights to share?

Revolutionizing the Role of the University: Collaboration to Advance Innovation in Higher Education

APLU_USU_Revolution_CoverUSU, APLU and our Collaborating for Change Initiative, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are proud to release our newest report, Revolutionizing the Role of the University: Collaboration to Advance Innovation in Higher Education.  This  short but rich brief looks at what we are learning about making innovative change in higher education, drawn from the experiences of seven urban institutions:  Florida International University, Fresno State University,  Georgia State University, Portland State University, Temple University, University of Akron, and the University of Illinois, Chicago.

Key Lessons

The change process is:

  1. Student-centered
  2. Collaborative, both across campus and between campus and community
  3. Enbedded in the community
  4. Inclusive, addressing the needs of all students and stakeholders
  5. Accountable, with a reliance on evidence for decision-making, process transparency and clearly defined roles.
  6. Relentless in terms of institutional commitment and execution.


What do you think is crucial to advancing institutional change?  Did we miss anything?



Collaborating for Change Launched: Watch it Here

Collaborating-for-change-630x500The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU)  launched Collaborating for Change: Analyzing New Approaches for Student Success, Thursday, March 31 from 2:00-4:00 p (EST) at the National Press Club.

Goldie Blumenstyk, senior writer at the Chronicle of Higher Education, moderated presentations from three public urban universities.  Mark Becker, President of Georgia State University opened the event. Featured institutions and university representatives include:

  • Mark Rosenberg, president of Florida International University (FIU), and his team will discuss far-reaching efforts that include a focus on gateway courses and deep roots into the Miami-Dade public schools that works to improve college readiness and student progression into and through the university.
  • Sukhwant Jhaj, vice provost for academic innovation and student success, and two faculty members from Portland State University (PSU), will talk about reTHINK PSU, a campus-wide initiative that engages campus stakeholders through transparency, crowdsourcing and inclusive design thinking to improve educational delivery to serve more students with better outcomes while containing costs through curricular innovation, community engagement, and the use of technology.
  • Emanuel Pollack, Interim vice provost of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), a representative from Bottom Line—a community-based NGO that helps low-income, first generation students get to and through college‒and a UIC student will discuss their formalization of a partnership and enhanced community engagement in college transition coaching opportunities to increase access and success for low-income students.

Why this Initiative?

Successful change must be collaborative.

Collaborating for Change is a six-year student success initiative implemented by APLU and the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Thus, our Collaborating for Change initiative works with public urban research universities planning and implementing transformational – often disruptive – campus practices to advance student success.  These transformations are particularly focused on admitting, retaining, educating, and graduating high need, traditionally at-risk students while reducing costs, reexamining campus business models, and fostering mutually beneficial campus-community engagements.

A cohort of seven public urban research universities were engaged in the first phase of this initiative: California State University, FresnoFlorida International University, Georgia State University, Portland State University, Temple University, University of Akron, and University of Illinois at Chicago.

Collaborating for Change engages stakeholders in a journey of deeply embedded, institutional collaboration. Drawing on the work of initiative campuses, it offers design frameworks and reports, blogs, publications, and APLU/USU engagements including webinars, interactions with project learning communities, the annual meeting, grants, and innovation competitions that inspire transparency and progressive action.

Collaborating for Change engagements bring stakeholders together to explore common challenges and aspirations; get feedback about campus learnings and possible solutions; share successes and failures; and present promising, replicable and scalable practices for student success.


Georgia State University’s Dollars & Sense Retention Efforts

Georgia_State_Univ_Science_Center Georgia State University (GSU) is taking a leading role in response to dramatic demographic shifts in the Southeast United States.  Located in downtown Atlanta, the university enrolls more African American, Latino, Asian American, first-generation and Pell Grant students than any other institution in the state of Georgia, says Timothy Renick, Vice Provost and Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Success. Driven by a commitment to the success of its students in life, school, and career,  the university has seen its graduation rate increase by 22 percentage points over the past decade.

Georgia State University’s progress has come from an innovative approach that leverages data as part of a process of continuous institutional self-reflection. The university’s success in eliminating barriers by clarifying degree pathways, developing a national model of intensive advising, and making extensive use of adaptive learning technology in gateway courses has set the stage for addressing two additional high impact areas in need of transformation: ineffective course delivery methods and unmet financial need among the student body.

Course scheduling and financial need are at the center of a project supported by the  the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMFG). The challenges that these areas pose are common in higher education.  Solutions are not.

Strategic Course Scheduling 

As the university has developed its capacity to use predictive analytics to facilitate intensive advising practices, new light has been shed on problems with the way the university schedules its courses. Today, academic advisors are helping students map out their academic requirements from semester to semester and are monitoring registration to ensure that students are sticking to these plans.  Last year, there were more than 43,000 one-on-one interventions by advisors at Georgia State University to keep students on path.   But what happens when a student’s ability to follow advisor recommendations is limited by course availability?  When course scheduling decisions are made solely based on faculty preference, students lose out. Their progress towards graduation is slowed, and the cost of their education grows.

Georgia State University is working to redefine its course-scheduling processes so that students are assured of having the courses they need, when they need them.  By leveraging in-house analytical capabilities, and partnering with a third-party consulting firm, Georgia State University is developing predictive models to anticipate student demand for specific courses.

Increased efficiency in the area of course scheduling means big savings to students.  American college students spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year on unnecessary credits that delay their progress to degree.  At times, unnecessary credits are a result a failure on the part of colleges and universities to understand and meet course demand.  Until now, anticipating demand has involved little more than guesswork on the basis of anecdotal or historical information.  Today, sophisticated modelling that leverages large quantities of student data is allowing Georgia State University to cut the time it takes students to graduate.  In fact, over the last two years, the increased rate at which students have fulfilled their degree requirements has meant more than $15 million in total saving in tuition and fees to the students.

Financial Literacy

Financial challenges also serve to delay student progress.  Not so long ago, Georgia State University would drop hundreds of students each term for an inability to cover tuition and fees.  Now, with access to a decade of financial aid data and more than 140,000 student records, the university has enhanced its already robust predictive analytics platform to identify students with nonacademic financial need that puts them at risk of stopping college.

The Panther Retention Grant program has been shown to make a significant difference in helping students for whom a financial shortfall of as little as $300 might prevent enrollment. Financial issues at Georgia State University have been shown to be particularly problematic for seniors who find their aid lagging as they enter the home stretch.  Micro grants have been proven very effective in helping students to cross the finish line, but this approach is a responsive measure rather than a proactive one.

What are the reasons that significant number of students find themselves running out of funding and dropping out of school?  How can we anticipate financial risk and assist students early on so that they don’t run out of money in the first place?  Building financial risk factors into its advising platform was an important first step for Georgia State University, but identifying and addressing the root cause of these issues requires something more.

Georgia State University has committed to establishing a Student Financial Management Center to assist at-risk students in mapping out a sound financial plan to fund their education.  As Georgia State continues to develop its financial literacy support model, it will also invest in research to optimize and demonstrate its impact, with the goal of serving as a mentor to other schools interested in scaling its approach nationwide.

The problems facing students today are many and varied.  Some problems, like financial literacy, are challenges that students bring with them.  Others, like course scheduling, are problems that universities unknowingly create.  “We face a moral choice here,” Renick says.  Embracing student success as a moral duty to serve society by serving students, Georgia State University has made use of data to better understand its students while at the same time holding up a mirror and confronting areas in which its complexity as an organization has historically made it difficult for its diverse student population to succeed at high rates.








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