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How the University Innovation Alliance Is Expanding Our Impact

How the University Innovation Alliance Is Expanding Our Impact

The University Innovation Alliance (UIA) is a small nonprofit organization with a big objective. Our mission is nothing less than transforming higher education through the kind of effective collaboration that accelerates innovation. Our strength, and indeed our uniqueness, lies our small size, the intimacy of our network, and our effectiveness in working with institutions that share our goals. As the UIA’s impact has grown, we’ve frequently wrestled with the challenge of including more people and institutions while maintaining our personal touch and not overextending our limited resources and small team. This year, we’re looking at two new ways of meeting that challenge.

Growing the UIA

Many nonprofits expand their focus as they grow and scale, adding more people or resources along the way, but we have always aimed to honor our core commitments. The intimacy of our network matters, and it gets noticed. When people outside the UIA fully engage with us, they comment about the higher-quality experience they have with us versus what they see in other collaboratives. There is no parallel to what the UIA creates. That’s why we’re so careful about how we grow, ensuring that we never compromise on the quality that makes the UIA unique.

Meanwhile, we’ve recognized a huge demand from institutions across the higher ed sector that want to be a part of what the UIA is doing. So expanding our reach seems obvious and necessary to continue having the profound impact on higher education that our students need. Over time, we’ve had the opportunity to work with hundreds of campuses and individuals who share our goals. Many have stood out as selfless, genuinely collaborative, helpful, and proactive – exactly the kinds of people we want to be in the trenches with.

In 2018, when it became clear that we were well ahead of schedule to exceed our initial stretch goal for awarding more degrees, we began identifying how we might grow, both formally as a network and informally as a hub and clearinghouse for higher ed innovation.

Our search for new members, beyond our 2014 core of 11 charter institutions, started with examining data from every R1 and R2 institution. We looked at what they had done, who they served, their improvement trajectory, how many low-income students and students of color they admitted and graduated, and more. We weren’t looking for perfection; we were looking for institutions that believed they could be better and were willing to do the work. We were interested in campuses with leaders who demonstrated a willingness to roll up their sleeves and collaborate.

In identifying those institutions and those leaders, we’ve added nine new UIA members – public research universities of different perspectives and sizes, each the only UIA member in its state (a core element of our design). These new member institutions have made our work so much richer, showing us the value of thoughtful expansion. We want every campus that joins us to feel like an equal, sharing the focus on the core of our work.

A Summit for Success

Expanding our formal membership isn’t the only way that we’re diffusing our impact across the higher ed sector this year. In October, we’ll be hosting our second UIA National Summit on Student Success Innovation. Building on everything that we’ve learned since our first summit in 2018, we believe this event will offer the best opportunity for people outside the UIA to step inside the circle and experience what our members love about this incredible community.

Quote from Michael Crow: “The means to your institution’s social transformation is the wisdom, the wit, the talent, and the energy of your faculty and your staff.”

Michael Crow, Arizona State University’s dynamic president, may have put it best that year in Atlanta when he told our attendees, “The purpose of your institution is social transformation. The means to social transformation is the wisdom, the wit, the talent, and the energy of your faculty and your staff.”

We hope you’ll join us to share the excitement of discovering all that we have in common and envisioning how we can all move forward together.

The University Innovation Lab

Our second big advance this year has been the launch of the UIA’s University Innovation Lab to the broader higher ed community. Over the past three years, we have been building the Lab to serve additional institutions and individuals who want to experience the magic and community of the UIA and benefit from collaborative student success innovation. We’ve been beta testing with cohorts, building out tools, and making sure that everything generates the maximum benefit for users (and, ultimately, the students at your institution). We are incredibly proud of what we’ve created.

The University Innovation Lab is now live, and it offers an ever-growing resource of tools, templates, trainings, courses, and professional development to help you and your campus achieve your student success goals. We invite your feedback to help us keep improving this work in progress, which we believe is unlike anything that any other organization is assembling.

Quote from Erin Sweeten: “When you join the UI Lab, you get support and resources, and you realize how far you've actually come and how much more you can actually do.”

Erin Sweeten, Assistant Director at the Lab, says, “When you join the UI Lab, you get support and resources, and in hearing from others, you realize how far you've actually come and how much more you can actually do.”

We hope you love the new University Innovation Lab as much as we do, and we hope this valuable resource will equip you to take action, find community, and lead boldly in the midst of change.

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