Innovation in College & Career Preparation

The Intersection of Instruction and Outcomes

Lorenzo Esters, USA FundsBy Lorenzo Esters, Vice President, Philanthropy, USA Funds

What is the relationship between college instruction and student outcomes?

A new paper examines that question in five key areas — making the case that “what faculty do and how instruction occurs matter, and matter greatly.”

“Unpacking Relationships: Instruction and Student Outcomes,” from the American Council on Education (ACE), argues for additional support for faculty, to ensure they’re equipped to follow the evidence-based practices that have a positive impact on student outcomes

ACEThe paper is part of a collaboration between ACE and USA Funds® to examine higher education instruction and assess the connection between quality teaching and an improved student experience, which may lead to increased retention, persistence, and success rates.

Author Natasha Jankowski, director of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment, discussed the paper during a recent webinar for higher education faculty, support staff and administrators and employers.

The goal? To disseminate a composite of best practices in college instruction that often aren’t considered as part of the holistic student experience. This intersection between instruction and student outcomes, the paper concludes, includes the following areas:

Transparency: Students must have a clear understanding of where they are going, the criteria that will evaluate how they get there, and each course’s role in the curriculum.

Pedagogical approaches: Practices such as student-centered learning and personalized instruction generally lead to deeper understanding of a subject.

Assessment: Students learn best by receiving multiple opportunities to practice learning in a variety of situations and by receiving feedback along the way.

Self-regulation: Active participation in learning, using reflection in addition to experience, is an important component in student success.

Alignment: Content, instructional design, pedagogical approaches, assignments and evaluative criteria should work together to help students to connect the pieces in their curricula.

During the January webinar, the report’s author called for more-thorough orientation, training and sharing among instructors to encourage these best practices in college instruction. Up next are additional reports that go beyond connections between effective instruction and student outcomes to examine the impact improved student outcomes have on institutional efficiency.

ACE Unpacking Relationships
“Unpacking Relationships” is part of a USA Funds grant project aimed at improving the classroom experience for students.

Equipping faculty with the tools and techniques necessary to positively impact the curricular experience for an increasingly diverse student population is central to improving postsecondary attainment and student success.

Through our work together, USA Funds and ACE will advance the most central endeavor to the academic enterprise — effective instruction. We will help increase awareness of the need for quality assessment of faculty development that will ultimately lead to an improved classroom experience for students.

Employer Engagement

Partnership Addresses Kentucky’s Talent Pipeline Needs

Derrick RedelmanBy Derek Redelman, Vice President, Research & Policy, USA Funds

Engage with any chamber of commerce in the country these days, and you’re certain to hear its members’ concerns about the workforce.

In my previous role, heading up education and workforce issues for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, no issue was more persistently at the top of our agenda. Sure, a lot of our members would identify some other issue as their highest concern — whether it was health care, a range of regulatory issues, labor rules, taxes or something else. But on the whole, across any state or regional business community, no issue was more persistent than their concerns about education and the workforce.

Moreover, those concerns have real consequences — real numbers that affect bottom lines, employment and, ultimately, the economy as a whole.

Just last year, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were nearly 6 million unfilled jobs in our country. And numbers like that seem to persist, to a significant degree, regardless of overall economic conditions. During the height of our recent “Great Recession” — when unemployment rates in some states, like USA Funds®’ home state of Indiana, were flirting with double-digit numbers — 40 percent of the employers in the state reported they could not find qualified workers to fill vacant positions.

More recently, as unemployment rates declined, the Indiana Chamber reported that percentage had increased to 45 percent.

So it should be little surprise that those representing businesses, including chambers of commerce, have taken such a keen interest in education and workforce issues. At the national level, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has been a leader on such issues, from preschool to academic standards to workforce issues and more. The Manufacturing Institute, a branch of the National Association of Manufacturers; the Business Roundtable; and the Business-Higher Education Forum are among other organizations focusing on education and the workforce.

Affecting change
At statehouses across the country, chambers of commerce often are the most consistent, and sometimes the loudest and most effective, advocates of education reform and improved higher education and workforce systems. Moreover, their political action arms often are responsible for electing the legislators who drive these reforms. And in many states, chamber foundations add to these efforts with research and other special initiatives.

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce ranks among the most active and effective chambers in its work on education issues.

So it is with great anticipation that USA Funds is providing a grant to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce to help establish a Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center. Through that new center, the Chamber will engage the business community to help advance several initiatives for addressing the needs of employers. Among those efforts are:

  • Creation of additional business collaboratives, in concert with the Talent Pipeline Management initiative that USA Funds is supporting with the U.S. Chamber.
  • Assistance to employers who serve on state and local workforce boards or participate in other workforce or educational leadership roles.
  • Increased focus on data, including the supply/demand tools that USA Funds has helped to initiate through our college value-focused work.
  • Engagement of government and education leaders to help ensure better communication and cooperation between suppliers of talent and those who hire their trainees and graduates.

Announcing our partnership
On Jan. 25 I had the pleasure of attending and speaking to the Kentucky Chamber’s 2nd Annual Workforce Summit in Lexington. The capacity audience included an impressive group of workforce training and education providers, small-to-large employers, and key government leaders. Presentations and discussions focused on:

  • Workforce trends.
  • Employer needs.
  • Improving opportunities for military veterans.
  • Employer engagement.
  • Workplace learning and apprenticeships.
  • Improved use of workforce data.

USA Funds announced our commitment to the Chamber’s efforts at the event’s lunch, which also included the introduction of Beth Davisson as executive director of the new Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center. The Chamber recently hired Beth from a large pool of candidates, and she brings a terrific set of skills to this work. She previously served in both workforce and human resource leadership roles, and she has been recognized as a “Top Business Leader Under 40” and among the “Top 20 People to Know in Human Resources.”

Kentucky Chamber’s 2nd Annual Workforce Summit
Dave Adkisson, from left, and Beth Davisson of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce join Redelman at the Kentucky Chamber’s 2nd Annual Workforce Summit.

Developed in partnership with Anna Gatlin Schilling, USA Funds’ vice president for National Engagement and Strategic Communications, our investment in Kentucky also represents a new approach to investments in state leadership. Whereas previous state engagements have provided direct support to governors’ offices, this grant extends that work to a nongovernmental organization with direct connections to and support of a key education constituency: the state’s employers.

Importantly, however, the demonstrated partnership already developed between the Kentucky Chamber and the state’s new governor, Matt Bevin, played an important role in the decision to support these efforts.

As I told the attendees at lunch on Jan. 25, it’s quite impolitic in the middle of basketball season for a Hoosier native to speak so well of our neighbors to the south. But it is with great pleasure — and also high expectations — that USA Funds initiates this partnership with our neighbors in Kentucky.

Innovation in College & Career Preparation

Key Themes, Practices Emerge in Re-Imagining First Year of College

georgemehaffy-aascuBy George L. Mehaffy, Vice President for Academic Leadership and Change, AASCU

A newly released study indicates that rich and poor students who graduate from college achieve similar income levels as adults, no matter the income of their families. This is an exciting finding, for it suggests that the American dream is still obtainable, despite growing economic inequality.

But college graduation rates — particularly those of low-income and first-generation students — are not as good as they should be. This lack of success in college wastes the potential of thousands of students, while limiting the capacity of our economy.

USA Funds’ Lorenzo Esters, left, joins Mehaffy after the presentation of the USA Funds RFY grant in 2015.
USA Funds’ Lorenzo Esters, left, joins Mehaffy after the presentation of the USA Funds RFY grant in 2015.

We know that there are a series of strategies and programs that can dramatically improve student retention and graduation rates. But, too often, implementation has proven to be a problem.

Re-imagining education
To address these implementation issues, we created the three-year project “Re-Imagining the First Year of College (RFY),” supported by USA Funds® and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

RFY seeks to identify and test a series of programs, strategies and tools that will increase retention rates and success for all first-year college students. The project, which began in January 2016, involves a diverse group of 44 campuses that are members of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU).

As part of the initiative, a team from each participating institution is developing a campus plan for innovation in students’ first year. Members of that team are administrators, faculty members, student affairs professionals and students.

Themes for change
In the first year of the project, as we have engaged in this work with our campuses, we have found ourselves addressing several recurring themes:

  1. How do you build a commitment to simultaneous, scalable change? What we’ve seen is modest — almost timid — efforts at innovation. It’s easy to be innovative if you are not trying to be comprehensively innovative. But the era of pilots and boutique innovation is over. What we now must have is large-scale innovation that dramatically changes the student success profile for a campus. This innovation requires multiple sets of changes across all parts of the enterprise. It is a daunting challenge, but we see examples of campuses that are achieving remarkable results.
  2. The most fundamental problem with American universities is that they were designed for us, not for our students. Classes offered at inconvenient times. Administrative offices in separate buildings. Services that are not available at the times that students need them, or are available only in distant locations. These examples and a host of others grow out of an organization designed primarily for its faculty and staff. In their 1995 Change magazine article, Robert Barr and John Tagg put it this way: The core problem with higher education is that our institutions were designed as teaching institutions, not as learning institutions, confusing means and ends.
  3. Two factors in institutional change stand out: culture and leadership. A 2005 AASCU study examined 12 high-performing institutions to determine the critical factors that contributed to high graduation rates. The study repeatedly found that a campus culture that supported student success, by assuming some of the responsibility for success, produced higher graduation rates. Strong institutional leadership that emphasized the campus obligation to student success was key. Now the challenge of how to change campus culture is a constant topic of our work.
  4. Some student failure is not the fault of students but of the structures, policies and practices we have put in place. We have to examine the conditions we created that contribute to student failure. Arcane language, a complex and often unforgiving system to navigate, and a host of other factors all contribute to student failure. And these factors — under our control, not the students’ — have the most deleterious effect on low-income and first generation students and students of color.

Promising approaches
As our 44 RFY campuses have designed new policies, strategies and practices, here are some approaches we think are most promising for redesigning the first year of college:

  • Belonging: Having a growth mindset both in student self-perceptions and in academic design.
  • Pathways: Providing well-defined pathways, detailed degree maps, and alternatives to college algebra.
  • Careers and meta-majors: Placing special importance on these choices in the first year.
  • Remedial: Offering co–requisites and summer bridge programs.
  • Course redesign: Reworking gateway courses, focusing on learning outcomes, including high-impact practices in all courses, and developing classes that focus on student interest and engagement.
  • Advising: Using a team of professional advisers, informed by data analytics.
  • Predictive and data analytics: Building in early alerts, based on communications with faculty and advisers.
  • Faculty hiring and development: Focusing on new faculty selection, extended onboarding, faculty development, and greater support for adjunct faculty.

This project, in summary, is both sobering and heartening at the same time. The work of changing an institution is enormously complicated, with a huge array of forces at work, many working in opposition to one another. But the campuses in the Re-Imagining project are alive with energy, excitement and commitment, engaging in substantive conversations and altering long-existing practices to contribute to student success.

Perhaps most importantly, I have been struck by the belief that, in helping more students succeed, we are helping our country succeed. This is work that all of us in higher education must undertake.

Innovation in College & Career Preparation

Advancing the Higher Education Innovation Agenda

Bill HansenBy Bill Hansen, USA Funds President and CEO

Sixty years ago this October, the Soviet Union’s launch of a tiny satellite called Sputnik shocked the United States out of its complacency over the education levels of its citizens. Our nation responded with an array of innovative new policies and practices to enhance Americans’ skill levels — especially in science, math and engineering — and open the doors of higher education to millions of new students.

With economists now reporting that we are nearing “full employment,” and with recent wage gains, our nation again risks becoming complacent about the results it is achieving from its higher education system. Even with these gains, the level of economic angst remains high, fueled in part by the large number of working-age adults who have dropped out of the workforce and concerns about the quality of the new jobs being created.

Despite an uptick in the economy, a persistent misalignment of graduates’ skills and competencies with the needs of the workforce threatens our future prosperity. This misalignment results in many graduates’ having too long a glide path to rewarding careers, and leaves many employers challenged to find qualified candidates to fill the jobs they need to grow their businesses.

To address this challenge, I believe we need to ignite a new spirit of innovation and creativity in higher education within the academy, abetted by employers and policymakers, and tapping well-tested solutions from private enterprise.

hansen-economic-club-of-indiana
Bill Hansen, left, with David Johnson of Central Indiana Corporate Partnership/BioCrossroads, answers audience questions at the Jan. 24 Economic Club of Indiana luncheon.

I had the opportunity to share the following examples of innovative new approaches with nearly 600 business, civic and education leaders at this week’s luncheon of the Economic Club of Indiana:

Listening to the voice of the consumer in higher education. I believe the experiences that former students had in higher education and the outcomes of those experiences can inform and enhance efforts to improve student success rates. Our partnership with Gallup will share these insights from surveys of 10,000 adults every month.

Helping college-bound students and their parents, as well as working adults, make better postsecondary program choices based on outcomes rather than inputs. Groundbreaking resources such as Indiana’s College Return on Investment Reports and Indiana College Value Index allow students to compare college programs based on their cost and student debt levels, employment rates for and earnings of their graduates, and graduates’ satisfaction with their jobs and lives.

Equipping students and working adults with resources to explore how they can translate their life passions into careers. Resources such as those offered by Roadtrip Nation  allow both students and adults to discover their unique paths through education to their life goals. I am especially proud of the recent production The Next Mission, which follows three veterans of military service as they explore with other vets the transition to civilian life.

Building a strong connection between K-12 and postsecondary education. Purdue Polytechnic Indianapolis, which will open this fall, is an exciting effort to improve the connection to college, and ultimately to rewarding STEM careers, for inner-city students.

Modernizing the financing of college. Our financial aid programs have successfully promoted near-universal access to higher education. But those programs are less successful in promoting college completion, and our federal student loan program was built for a different era. I suggest that we explore promising alternatives, like income-share agreements, such as Purdue’s Back a Boiler  program. Money management and student loan repayment support programs, like those from Student Connections℠, help ensure students have the “fiscal fitness” to complete college and launch their careers without drowning in debt.

Supporting all students, but especially low-income and first-generation students, to persist and complete their studies. These students typically arrive on campus without the college survival skills or support networks that their classmates enjoy. An initiative involving the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Indiana State University, Ivy Tech Community College  and Inside Track to provide student success coaches  to 21st Century Scholars so far has shown promising results in improving retention rates for these low- and moderate-income students.

Exposing students to the world of work throughout their years in education. Quality internships, apprenticeships and work experiences, such as that offered by Education at Work, help students earn income and tuition assistance to pay college costs, while also equipping them with “soft skills” that they will need in their careers and connecting them to potential employers.

I believe these examples represent the start of a higher education innovation agenda that will produce better outcomes for students and help employers enrich their talent pipelines. I invite you to share and discuss this list with your colleagues, and submit your suggestions for this agenda in the comments section by selecting the comment icon at the upper right of this article.

Innovation in College & Career Preparation

Collaboration Fuels Higher Education Innovation

Allison Griffin, USA FundsBy Alison Griffin, Senior Vice President, External and Government Relations, USA Funds

There’s strength in numbers, and nowhere is that more evident than in the world of higher education innovation.

I recently had the honor of taking part in a panel discussion, hosted by New America, about the progress of the University Innovation Alliance. The alliance is a group of 11 institutions that are using innovative practices to serve more students, and more effectively.

uia-logoThese next-generation universities are tackling some of the biggest issues facing today’s campuses, using approaches like predictive analytics and intensive advising. Their goal: to improve outcomes for all students, regardless of background.

The UIA is showing that, by working together and bringing solutions to scale, higher education institutions can make a real difference for their students and their communities.

USA Funds® is one of six private organizations funding the work of UIA. The UIA participating schools’ clear commitment to collaboration is one reason its initiatives are such a good fit for USA Funds’ support.

USA Funds’ guiding principle is Completion With a Purpose®: enhancing postsecondary education completion rates while also helping graduates more successfully launch into rewarding careers. One way we advance Completion With a Purpose is by partnering with groups of institutions whose focused leaders — working together — are transforming the way we prepare students for careers and life in ways that individual action can’t.

It’s through collaboration, like that shown in the work of the UIA, that institutions have the greatest capacity to tap into the pipeline of students most at risk of not receiving postsecondary degrees.

New America Panel
Taking part in the panel discussion “Defining Next Generation Universities” were, from left: David Leonhardt of The New York Times, Hilary Pennington of Ford Foundation, Tina Gridiron of Lumina Foundation, Alison Griffin of USA Funds, and Kevin Carey of New America.

Working as a team, institutions can learn from each other even as they’re developing and implementing innovative approaches to higher education. And then, once their efforts yield results, the reach of a group of institutions is greater than that of a single university to share the ideas and outcomes with others.

UIA member Georgia State University, for example, has found that a data-driven, personalized advising system helps to close achievement gaps for at-risk students. And Arizona State University, also a member of the alliance, is another example of success in data-driven student advising; the institution has implemented an electronic program that closely monitors and alerts students of their academic progress.

In these cases — and in other UIA success stories — an entire group of institutions then works together to implement similar programs on their own campuses and spread the word to others.

This collaborative approach to higher education innovation hasn’t been the norm, but endeavors like UIA point to a new era of enhancing student outcomes. The old protect-and-defend mentality is beginning to give way to efforts that tap into the collective strength of universities, to better address access and completion challenges for students from all walks of life.

It’s a change in mindset that already is paying dividends in helping to ensure the economic mobility of students and communities universities serve.

Innovation in College & Career Preparation

Bold, Intentional and Focused: Early Lessons From MSI College Value

Lorenzo Esters, USA FundsBy Lorenzo Esters, Vice President, Philanthropy, USA Funds

If you had $325,000 and three years to improve the success of students and the value of a college education, what would you do?

USA Funds® posed that question to a group of minority-serving institutions through a competitive grant process, selecting seven of the schools for the award based on their responses. The MSI Measuring College Value initiative aims to help institutions more effectively use data to help students stay on track to completion and successfully navigate into rewarding careers.

Over the last few months, I’ve had the pleasure of joining project consultants Randy Swing and Yael Kidron in meeting with teams from each of the institutions. We’ve considered their answers to that all-important question as they begin their work on improving college and career success for students.

Lorenzo Esters addresses the board of Wiley College, recipient of a USA Funds Measuring College Value Grant, during a recent visit there.
Lorenzo Esters addresses the board of Wiley College, recipient of a USA Funds Measuring College Value Grant, during a recent visit there.

Here’s one lesson we quickly learned: Higher education professionals value every student with whom they work. The hope for 100 percent success for all students drives many dedicated educators every day. As one individual put it, “I’m proud to say that I have never given up on any student.”

But there are times that require triage and choices to ensure the best outcome for the most individuals.

Saving all students

One of the difficult decisions the seven grantee institutions face is foundational to any college or university wishing to improve student success: Do you focus on the students who are most at risk, or focus on students who are closest to being successful and most immediately able to benefit from support? There are valid reasons to pursue either option.

It was clear that all seven schools wanted to “save” all students. One philosophy is that “a rising tide raises all boats,” meaning that bringing up the lowest-achieving students will benefit everyone. Since peer-to-peer relationships have a huge impact, it is reasonable to expect that success, motivation and pride can sweep through an entire organization when the least likely to succeed beat the odds that are against them.

The catch is that helping the most at-risk student often requires intense focus and considerable resources — and yet carries significant potential of still being too little to change the outcome.

Alternatively, many management experts suggest that the fastest way to “move the needle” on organizational achievement is to focus on the areas of “near-success,” where removing small barriers boosts individuals over the success line.

Using fewer resources to move students to success is rewarding — but taking this route comes at the cost of knowing that it leaves the most at-risk students behind.

Targeting the assistance

Another observation from our visits with the seven grantees was the challenge of narrowing the scope of any targeted intervention. All students are different. And different populations require different interventions and support systems.

For example, focusing on all first-time students may be too broad of a focus. But a decision to focus specifically on first-time-in-college, first-generation, low-income students may yield findings and interventions that boost the success of that particular population of students. An institution then could choose another population on which to focus. The college or university could develop interventions based on what it learns through data related to that population.

The decision about how to best use limited resources is the kind of choice that tests institutional mission and resolve. The right choice is the one that fits an institution’s culture and mores, and it must come from within the institution.

Experience, however, suggests that there is one wrong approach to using data to promote college and career success: failing to be intentional and strategic. Action that isn’t intentional and strategic risks the desired outcomes by spreading resources too thinly. Using data and professional knowledge in decision making begins with being intentional about your target issue and target cohort of students.

The takeaway: In advancing college completion and career readiness, be bold, be intentional, and be focused.

Enhancing college value

The seven minority-serving institutions in this program are well-positioned to set the standard for enhancing college value.

Over the next few months, they will finalize their action plans by establishing the populations of students on which they’ll focus, and the steps to take to improve college value. In the subsequent two years of the initiative, they will work with faculty, staff, students and employers to implement practices and policies and revise curricula in an effort to enhance the career readiness of students.

Key Education Transitions

Collaborating to End the Plight of African-American Males

Michael TwymanBy Michael Twyman, Executive Director, OpportunIndy

The plight of many African-American young men today is a crisis of major proportions. By focusing on four key areas, OpportunIndy is facilitating work to end the crisis in Indianapolis.

Daunting statistics
A report released at the 2015 Indiana Commission on the Social Status of Black Males (ICSSBM) Annual Conference noted statistics about African-American males that are daunting and alarming:

  • In 2020 the vast majority of jobs will require some kind of postsecondary credential. Black males face some of the greatest challenges to earning a high school diploma and completing postsecondary opportunities, however. Black males are more likely to not be in the labor force than they are to earn a postsecondary credential.
  • Too few black children, particularly males, are reading at grade level by third grade. Studies show that low rates of reading proficiency among third-graders increase students’ chances of dropping out of high school. And for black males, not graduating from high school is directly related to higher rates of incarceration.
  • Low education attainment rates among black males not only reduce labor rate participation, but also reduce the chances that they will develop and maintain core family structures and two-parent homes.

The Children’s Policy and Law Initiative (CPLI) of Indiana has noted that one in nine students in the state in 2012-2013 were suspended from school. Young black men are 3-4 times more likely to be suspended from school than their white counterparts for the same infractions.

According to a five-year estimate released by the U.S. Census Bureau in December 2015, nearly 22 percent — 119,075 people — age 18-24 in Indiana were without a high school diploma or GED. Again, African-American young men were disproportionately represented in the figures.

And, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), dropouts are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested than high school graduates. Nationally, 68 percent of all males in prison do not have a high school diploma. The majority of teens in the juvenile justice system are there as a result of nonviolent crimes such as truancy or disruptive classroom behavior.

And for many, being in the juvenile justice system begins the path toward a less productive life. More than two-thirds of these incarcerated teens ultimately drop out of high school; the vast majority of these individuals are young men of color.

Collaborative action
In 2015 President Obama and the White House My Brother’s Keeper initiative helped bring attention to these systemic issues and called on communities across the country to commit to producing better outcomes for our most vulnerable young people.

Indianapolis accepted the challenge. We already had gotten out of the gate by launching the Your Life Matters Task Force in 2014 to study and assess conditions locally, followed by a report that included specific strategy recommendations on how to create and expand more opportunities for these young men to be successful.

4 Areas of Focus OpportunIndy

And now OpportunIndy is engaging diverse community stakeholders in the ongoing work to address issues facing Indianapolis’ young black men — and the city overall.

OpportunIndy uses a collective impact model. We act as a facilitator and convener to bring partners like USA Funds® and their resources to the table for action and impact. We work toward the following goals:

  • All African-American men will graduate from high school on time and enter the workforce with an industry certification, military training, and/or postsecondary education by age 24.
  • All African-American men up to age 24 are prepared for success in the workforce and are gainfully employed in career-track work after completion of education.
  • All African-American young men age 14-24 are safe and healthy.
  • All African-American young men age 14-24 are free from arrest, detainment and incarceration.

In addition to our involvement in the My Brother’s Keeper effort, OpportunIndy is helping to create education and employment pathways for young men of color through the establishment of an Opportunity Zone. This effort focuses on young black men age 14-24 who are at risk of not completing high school, are underemployed, and/or are involved in the justice system.

By working together we can promote the policies and practices that provide young African-American men with more options — and therefore better opportunities to live their best lives.

View the video below to learn more about how OpportunIndy is working to make Indianapolis a stronger and more vibrant community for everyone.

OpportunIndy video