Texas Tech received a grant from the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities to improve student success. With this grant, individuals involved in the initiative will use a data maturity matrix to improve in three main areas: High-quality digital learning, academic advising and academic readiness support, focusing on transfer students from two-year institutions.
“The purpose of the grant, generally, is to provide meaningful opportunities to support APLU member institutions like Texas Tech to work towards improving student success outcomes,” said Patrick Hughes, vice provost of University Programs and Student Success.
Hughes serves as Tech’s representative, leading one of the groups participating in APLU’s Powered by Publics program. The cluster of institutions Hughes leads works to promote efficiencies in the production of, access to and insights from, institutional data, he said.
According to the Powered by Publics website, participating institutions work collaboratively to increase college access, eliminate the achievement gap and award more degrees by 2025 using shared data within clusters.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to continue to work with APLU toward their goals of continuing student success outcomes, and we’re looking forward to attaining good results in our participation,” Hughes said.
Joshua Barron, senior director of Success and Retention at Tech, elaborated on the three main focuses of the initiative.
First, recognizing that, even in face-to-face classes, a significant amount of work is done online by both faculty and students, Barron said. Making sure students have access to course support they need, or textbooks delivered totally online are part of the high-quality digital learning focus of the initiative.
“When you’re thinking of high-quality digital learning, it’s how can we help the students have the best possible experience in the digital environment,” Barron said.
Having a high-quality digital learning experience is important because individuals coming from two-year institutions vary on the amount of technology involved in their schooling, Barron said. Some may have primarily used a paper textbook while some may have been in a more digital environment than Tech is.
The high-quality digital learning experience is a three-piece triangle made up of student readiness, faculty readiness and technology, Barron said.
“If anyone of those isn’t there, then you’re not going to have a high-quality digital learning experience,” Barron said.
Advising redesign is another focus of the initiative, Barron said.
Academic advising is widely looked at as clerical work, helping choose courses and register, Barron said. However, though advisors do perform these tasks, they have the capacity to contribute far more to a student’s experience.
“Academic redesign is intended to help, I would say, review academic advising practices, enhance those with best practice models and technologies in ways that better support desired student learning outcomes,” Barron said.
This is key, especially for students transitioning from a two-year to a four-year institution, Barron said, because the students have already invested time and money into being successful in higher education. Guidance regarding concentrations, minors and ideal ways students can spend time outside of class can be helpful for these students.
The academic redesign element recognizes that students have multiple advisors. With technological support, advisors in different departments within the university can communicate with each other and track a student’s academic progress, which helps improve the quality of the meetings between advisor and student.
This can help an advisor better equip and empower students, Barron said.
“If a student’s well equipped (then) they can be empowered to feel like they are the CEO of their educational enterprise,” Barron said.
The third, and final, focus of the initiative is academic readiness support, Barron said. The other two focuses flow from this.
“Helping students to be ready to receive support is an enormous challenge for an institution because, like I mentioned before, a lot of folks are not excited about saying, ‘I need help,’” Barron said.
There are many campus resources, like tutoring and the University Career Center, that students pay for in their tuition, which are there to support students, Barron said.
These three elements, when addressed together can do an effective job of making sure Tech is helpful to transfer students.
“All students benefit when we do these things better,” Barron said, “and that’s the part that I honestly am excited about.”
While the grant from APLU helps Tech to focus more on a specific population, Barron said he expects that any fruits that come from this initiative will eventually benefit all students.
Darryl James, vice provost for Institutional Effectiveness, provided more information regarding how data is used to improve student success and learning outcomes.
Tech is the leader of Cluster 13 in the Powered by Publics initiative, James said. This cluster is the data integration cluster.
“The focus of that is to try to figure out ways, how do we leverage data to improve student success,” James said.
Those involved with the initiative at Tech try to understand data to improve in the three focus areas of the APLU grant. For example, improving the Strive System used by faculty and students in advising, making it available for both to provide feedback on the system.
Additionally, they can use data to determine what problems there may be, or if a student may need to consider tutoring, James said.
The priority is the student, James said. Figuring out ways to engage students, ways students can be active in knowing their advisors, knowing faculty and trying to understand ways Tech and its students can be more successful.
“The theme is, what can we do to improve student success and utilizing data to do that,” James said. “So, this initiative really provides us with funds to continue in that endeavor.”
Tech is on the advanced end of using data and leveraged data to improve student success, James said, some institutions are just starting. They use what is called a data maturity matrix, which evaluates where an institution is regarding how well they utilize data across the campus to improve student success.
“If you look at strategic priority number one, what do we want to do, we want to educate and empower a diverse student body and really this supports that,” James said. “To try and make sure across the board all of our students have the possibility to be successful.”