Civitas Learning released a new report reviewing data from 29 colleges and universities revealing surprising new insights into the impact of student success initiatives as colleges seek to improve equity and close achievement gaps in higher education. The report, entitled What Matters Most For Equity, is first in a new volume of the Community Insights research briefs, which draw on Civitas Learning’s data analytics work over eight years to explore emerging issues in higher education policy and practice.

“At a time when our country is living through a national reckoning on racial justice, it’s never been more important for institutions to fully understand the hidden barriers and unintended consequences that too often work against equity and student success,” said Dr. Angela Baldasare, Civitas Learning’s Sr. Principal Strategic Consultant. “Improving equity requires a precision of analysis and a level of collaboration that poses a challenge for institutions—but that doesn’t take a 10 year research initiative. The data—and outcomes—from our community demonstrate that improved equity is possible for the students in our institutions today.”

The study explores how student success programs are improving or limiting equity, and more specifically, how to identify opportunities to build a more inclusive, equitable student experience. Across institution types and more than 300 unique programs, the analysis revealed:

-Advising and degree planning initiatives yield the most consistently effective and positive impact on students. 96% of advising programs had a positive impact on student success, with similar reported outcomes for male and female students. Among different races of students, it was American Indian/Alaskan Native, Paciific Islander, and Black students who derived the greatest benefit.
-Students predicted to be most vulnerable or at risk benefited most from student success programs, signaling new opportunities to understand student engagement, focus student outreach and support.
-But the report also warns of a one-size-fits all approach, finding that 30% of automated alerts resulted in a negative impact on student outcomes. No matter what system or process higher education uses to identify academic struggle, highlighting a student’s risk through an automated flag or transactional message increases a feeling of vulnerability.

Leaders at Florida Atlantic University, for example, have grounded their student success strategy by working to understand deeper data about their student success programs and a more intersectional view of each student and their experience. Their approach increased student completion by 28 percentage points and eliminated the achievement gap.

“By staying relentlessly focused on the data, we’ve been able to ensure that our student success campaigns are always grounded in equity—even if the insights sometimes challenge our assumptions or lead us to uncomfortable conclusions about what’s working for our students,” said Dr. James Capp, Florida Atlantic University Assistant Provost for Academic Operations and Planning. “This work is about building the evidence base we need to remove systemic barriers to success and completion for all students—regardless of income, first-generation status, and race.”

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