Postsecondary Trending Now: The First iPASS Grants – a New Outcomes Analysis

Just under a year ago, EDUCAUSE announced the award of three-year grants to 26 institutions to improve student retention and completion dramatically by implementing technology and changes in business processes that could transform advising. Although many other colleges and universities seeking to improve retention and completion rates by transforming advising are eager to know the results of these awards, the grantees are just rolling out their new programs this fall. Definitive outcomes and lessons will not be available for several years.

However, interested institutions have a new, in-depth study available to help them chart the path. “How Colleges Use Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success (iPASS) to Transform Student Support,” a just-released working paper from the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University (CCRC), describes and discusses outcomes from the prior 2013-2015 grants to 19 campuses which were directly funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The new report is available here.

Hobson’s Starfish, Civitas Illume, and Ellucian’s Degree Works are just a few of the wide array of new technologies that have recently emerged to support the functions collectively known as iPASS. The student-facing functions of iPASS are degree planning, counseling and coaching, and early alert (that is, warning of difficulties in time for corrective action), one aspect of predictive analytics.

Can these technologies really drive improvements in retention and completion? The devil is in the details, the CCRC working paper concludes: technology is necessary but not sufficient in these comprehensive reform efforts. Their effectiveness depends upon organizational and human factors, including institutional culture and its openness to change.

How Can Institutions Achieve Transformative Change?

A research team led by CCRC assistant director Melinda Karp is interested in transformative change: that is, reform that “fundamentally reorganizes how education and educational services are delivered and experienced” by students. For this paper, the team sought to understand what distinguishes institutions that are successful in achieving transformative change in student outcomes from those that attempt fundamental change but do not achieve it. They conducted site visits and an in-depth analysis of the work of six of the 19 colleges and universities that received funding from the Gates Foundation. (Institutions are identified only by pseudonyms.) The paper includes a review of relevant past research—in particular, it builds on the CCRC’s Readiness for Technology Adoption framework.

The authors identify factors that led to success in transforming student support at three of the six institutions. Its conclusions for other institutions are as follows:

  • Emphasize broad reforms. Institutions should apprehend their work as “reform” broadly rather than as a specific initiative, since a focus on initiatives tends to emphasize the technical deployment of technology rather than the goal of such deployments, which is the transformation of advising.
  • Focus on leadership. Institutions must pay attention to leadership, at both the senior level and at the level of day-to-day management.
  • Articulate the vision. Institutions need clarity of vision; they need to articulate what they want to accomplish through their reform, and how they plan to accomplish it, so that all stakeholders may understand the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’ behind this effort.
  • Embrace institutional culture. Institutions need to understand their own culture in order to ensure that student success is a shared mission and that leadership is willing to share responsibility.

We recommend that those colleges and universities considering their own integrated programs for student success download and study this new paper. It contains useful lessons for the field based on in-depth research. And stay tuned for the outcomes to emerge from the work now going forward among the current round of iPASS grantees!

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