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Innovation in Action: Overview of the UIA’s Current Scale Projects

Innovation in Action: Overview of the UIA’s Current Scale Projects

For ten years, the University Innovation Alliance (UIA) has aspired to be an effective force for change. Our strategies have included collaborative scale projects among member institutions. These initiatives bring focus and energy to our innovation work and demonstrate how universities working together can solve problems and generate results surpassing anything that individual campuses could accomplish on their own. Successfully scaling innovations requires a total commitment to collaboration. We enable campus teams to share challenges, test solutions, and keep expanding our innovation horizons. During 2023, as detailed in our Annual Report, we made great strides on these four scale projects: Academic Recovery, Student-Centered Redesign, Listening Lab, and Doctoral Research Fellows.

Academic Recovery Initiative

All UIA member schools are deeply committed to producing more low-income graduates, first-generation graduates, and graduates of color. However, first-year students sometimes have difficulties adjusting to college’s academic demands, and the pandemic years increased the DFW rate (students earning grades of D and F or withdrawing from a course with no credit) on many campuses.

Dr. Tim Renick, Executive Director of the National Institute for Student Success (NISS) at Georgia State University, pioneered the Accelerator Academy to reverse the growing DFW trend, and in 2023, the UIA launched our Academic Recovery Initiative, scaling the NISS Accelerator model across ten additional campuses. Our $3.5 million, 2.5-year initiative provides financial and academic support for students retaking high-priority courses in which they were previously unsuccessful.

The Accelerator model provides tuition subsidies and microgrants for students to retake a high-priority lower division course in which they’ve previously earned a D, F, or Withdraw grade, also offering wraparound academic support to participants through supplemental instruction and academic coaching. Pilot data from campuses implementing the Accelerator in the first round, summer and fall 2023, showed 77% of students succeeding in their course retake efforts via this model – a 22% improvement over the historical 55% retake success rate for students not participating in the Accelerator.

In addition to improving the success rates of students, retention was also very high (just over 85%) for students retained in the fall after completing their summer Accelerator course. We look forward to sharing more outcomes from subsequent terms as UIA campuses continue to test and refine how they implement the Accelerator approach.

Student-Centered Redesign

The UIA has observed that higher education, in its current form, was designed to serve the faculty rather than the students, who have been traditionally expected to navigate the system with little to no guidance, in addition to mastering the subject matter that they paid their tuition to learn. Our mission is realigning this outdated model to meet the needs of young adults growing up in a world where nearly every consumer-facing product is designed with the user experience in mind. Building on a collective effort launched in fall 2020, 14 UIA campuses are currently participating in our Student-Centered Redesign Initiative and piloting new interventions designed to improve the outcomes and experiences of Black students.

While this is most obvious in our Black Student Success Initiative (BSSI), redesign efforts must go deeper. We’re committed to across-the-board student success through a culture change that will normalize a consistent focus on capturing empathy and learning from the lived experience of today’s students. This can only come about through consistent design experiences that enable professionals to walk through the systems and processes that students face every day. We encourage this level of institutional redesign through:

  • Empathy sprints: Speak to at least one or two students in the week prior to a leadership meeting at which you’ll share what you’ve learned directly from them.
  • Process mapping sessions: Talk through the student experience step by step, noting all points of interaction with faculty and staff. What may seem obvious to you might not be obvious to students as they navigate their college experience.
  • Clarify and prioritize your challenges: Pursue innovations and solutions that address your campus’ problems. Even specific, low-cost actions can help cultivate greater empathy, problem recognition, and diagnosis to improve student outcomes.

Set ambitious but realistic goals, establishing a scoreboard and cadence for assessment: As you pursue the best innovations and solutions, approach and review each goal separately, because the conversation about improvement needs to be highly focused.

Applied consistently, these early, low-cost steps often make the most long-term differences for shifting your campus culture.

Listening Lab for Campus Transformation

In 2022, the UIA launched a project to design, implement, and scale what we call the Listening Lab, a systematic, action-oriented, inclusive approach to understanding student experiences and perspectives. Led by colleagues at Michigan State University along with pilot engagement from three additional UIA campuses (University of California Riverside, Purdue, and Georgia State) throughout 2023, the UIA developed focus group protocols, training modules, and actionable insight report templates designed to elevate the student voice. The Listening Lab will help institutions uncover and address barriers to equitable student success that might not appear in large survey datasets, thereby driving changes in policy and program design.

During 2023, seven participating pilot campuses conducted 74 focus groups with hundreds of students to engage student voice. Together, we have developed a method for deriving trustworthy, authentic findings, with attention to translating those findings into policy and program solutions supporting student success. Our model builds upon existing surveys (e.g., SERU, Gallup) to deepen their findings by exploring nuance and identifying additional patterns and overlooked themes across student groups. As our data collection and analysis continues, the UIA is preparing to release a public playbook in the summer of 2024, designed to equip any campus to lead with empathy and take action to support student success.

Doctoral Research Fellows

Since 2020, our Doctoral Research Fellows program has engaged member-institution postgrads in research on UIA projects and campus student success initiatives. In 2023, we supported another cohort of emerging scholars in their work with faculty advisors and UIA liaisons to conduct doctoral-level research on programs at their respective institutions. Four UIA campuses are participating in the next round of this collaborative effort, as graduate students and faculty advisors at each institution use UIA project or campus data to research the effectiveness of various initiatives. Their projects this year focus on:

  • Enhancing Black student success by understanding their experiences before college
  • Assessing the role of study habits on students’ beliefs and academic performance
  • Persistence of students of color through the sophomore year
  • Providing academic success support interventions through tailored courses and programming for first-year students with challenging first semesters.

In 2024, we look forward to sharing this cohort's findings and recommendations for policy and practice with our network – and with you.


Much of the UIA’s innovative work would not have been possible without support from these partners:

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