Thursday, May 30, 2024

Student persistence program at UTSA grows with new funding

Student persistence program at UTSA grows with new funding

MARCH 16, 2023 — UTSA is one of five UT System schools that will receive a second round of funding to continue a project that will identify and resolve barriers to student success and degree completion, particularly among women and students from historically underrepresented and minority (URM) groups using real-time student and curricular data.

The university’s Equitable Student Pathways (ESP) project is part of a larger, UT System-wide student success initiative—Data Agency, Action, and Insight: Redesigning Student Pathways to Ensure Equity—made possible by the Lumina Foundation, an independent, private organization focused on post-secondary learning.

The first phase of funding began in January 2022, with each of the UT System’s eight universities designing projects to enhance data agency and equity-mindedness across their respective institutions.

“With this support, we can expand our successful approach to another college and evaluate options for institutional scale-up.”

Of these eight universities, five, including UTSA, were selected to receive the second round of funding for their projects.

UTSA’s ESP project aligns with the nearly two dozen university-wide initiatives created since 2018 to help the university reach its strategic destination of becoming a model for student success. It is also a continuation of the efforts made by the university’s Enabling Clear Pathways to Degree Completion Tactical Team, which was introduced in 2020 to promote a more centralized and standardized core curriculum to improve student degree progression and completion.

“Being chosen by the Lumina Foundation for a second phase of funding is a testament to the important work we’re doing to address barriers promoting timely graduation for all students,” said UTSA Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Kimberly Andrews Espy. “With this support, we can expand our successful approach to another college and evaluate options for institutional scale-up. This grant will expand our cross-functional teaming work to implement effective solutions that promote student success from admission to graduation across UTSA.”

UTSA’s ESP team analyzed student enrollment and demographic data from the last decade during phase one of the project. They examined how factors including race, ethnicity, gender, first-generation status and Pell grant eligibility impacted persistence, timely graduation and academic performance.

From this analysis, the team identified three majors—civil engineering, construction science and management, and environmental science—as having significantly lower rates of persistence and degrees awarded to URM students.

Using these three academic programs as a pilot, the UTSA team embarked on a multi-part strategy to address the equity gaps. The group built an institutional dashboard that reveals real-time student course enrollment, persistence and graduation data down to individual programs within the three majors.

“UTSA’s investment in these data dashboards was crucial in identifying hidden obstacles to success for our underrepresented students,” said Mark Appleford, UTSA’s ESP project lead and associate vice provost of undergraduate studies. “We’re now ready to take what we’ve learned into the next stage of this initiative and scale these tactics so they can be used campus-wide.”

The ESP team designed several strategies to improve student degree attainment, including: 

  • Beginning a multi-year core curriculum refresh in fall 2022 to better link core classes to students’ major coursework and career-readiness;
  • Building and implementing an annual campus climate survey to capture student feedback at critical milestones throughout their degree program; and
  • Developing a monitoring system to identify and address gaps in persistence and graduation rates among URM students across academic programs.

The first phase of UTSA’s ESP project was led by a cross-campus team that incorporated faculty and administrators from the Student Success and Academic Innovation divisions within Academic Affairs. In addition to Appleford, team members included: 

  • Ibukun Awolusi, assistant professor, Department of Civil Engineering and Construction Management;
  • Amy Buechler-Steubing, senior director of student success strategic planning and administration; director of student success initiatives, Office of Student Success;
  • Terri Matiella, assistant dean for remote instruction, professor of instruction, Department of Integrative Biology;
  • Katie Meersman, director of strategic initiatives for academic success, University College;
  • Arturo Montoya, associate dean of undergraduate programs and associate professor, Margie and Bill Klesse College of Engineering and Integrated Design;
  • Marcela Ramirez, associate vice provost for teaching, learning & digital transformation, Office of Academic Innovation; and
  • Steve Wilkerson, associate vice provost and chief analytics officer, Office of Institutional Research and Analysis.

For phase two, the ESP team is shifting its focus to the Carlos Alvarez College of Business—which serves more than 6,000 undergraduate students—due to its high transfer and pre-major student populations. Using knowledge gained from phase one, they will target courses within the finance, accounting, and cyber and information systems degree programs. Working with Academic Innovation’s Office of Teaching, Learning and Digital Transformation, the team will modify and restructure the targeted courses to help alleviate existing gaps in persistence and degree attainment in those classes.

The primary goal of phase two, which is expected to conclude in July 2023, is to create a formalized, scalable system that will identify and decrease equity disparities within any degree program at UTSA.   

In addition to analyzing real-time and historic information from UTSA’s data dashboards, the ESP team also used Civitas Learning, a tool that uses predictive analytics to detect at-risk students, or those who are stagnant in a general studies program and not transitioning into major-specific coursework. This enabled the team to proactively identify students needing extra support and to provide them with targeted programs and services to help them progress through their studies.

In a related university initiative, Appleford also used Curricular Analytics to assist in the revision of core classes and undergraduate degree programs as part of UTSA’s partnership with the Association for Undergraduate Education at Research Universities. This open access software gives insight into how overall curriculum design—such as the structure and sequence of courses in a degree program—affects student outcomes.

Furthermore, the Curricular Analytics software can recommend data-informed curriculum improvements as well as personalized degree plans for different students.

Explore UTSA’s institutional data dashboard
 Discover how Curricular Analytics can help improve degree programs

“Our goal with this software is to figure out the appropriate complexity of degree pathways at UTSA,” Appleford said. “Curricular Analytics lets us simulate student progress in many different scenarios by rearranging prerequisites or changing the order in which courses are completed. All UTSA colleges will have access to this program as part of our long-term course catalog refresh, and it will serve as a critical tool in evaluating the most effective degree pathway design for our students.”

Over the last decade, UTSA has made tremendous strides improving key student success outcomes, including graduation rates and first-year student retention, by creating a data-informed ecosystem of student support across the institution. For example, Roadrunners now complete their degree in 4.3 years on average, compared to 5.4 years a decade ago. First-year student retention also improved to 80%, up from 64% in 2012.

Chloe Johnson

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of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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University of Texas at San Antonio receives ‘transformational’ $40M gift

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