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Innovating to Close Equity Gaps: The National Institute for Student Success

Innovating to Close Equity Gaps: The National Institute for Student Success

The University Innovation Alliance (UIA) is proud of our UIA Liaisons. These respected campus leaders are skilled in change management, and we look to them for spearheading and scaling student success initiatives at our member institutions. One outstanding example is Dr. Tim Renick, Executive Director of the National Institute for Student Success (NISS) at Georgia State University. Dr. Renick recently joined our panel discussion on the future of academic advising, hosted by the UIA and The Chronicle of Higher Education, during which he spoke about how academic advising has changed from a casual add-on to a necessary support for a very different generation of students. In this blog, we focus on the need for NISS.

Closing the Equity Gaps
"Across the globe, a university degree is the great equalizer," says Dr. Renick. "Individuals who hold a college degree have higher income earning potential throughout their lives, longer life expectancy, better healthcare, their children have better opportunities, but the distribution of college degrees is very inequitable. The roots of these equity gaps in many places fall at the feet of the colleges and institutions themselves, the way we admit students, the way we advise them, the way we register them for classes, the way we package them for financial aid."

Those equity gaps often stem from an outdated profile of the typical college student: a full-time, on-campus resident with an understanding of available resources and the bandwidth to seek those resources on their own. In fact, many of today's students are a bit older, self-supporting (some with dependents), possibly first-generation and/or from underserved or marginalized communities, and lacking the experience or time to find the resources that might better ensure their academic success.

"Sometimes it’s really simple," says Dr. Renick. "They need tech help, they need Wi-Fi access at home. But in other cases, it’s much more. The advisors aren’t necessarily the experts in all these areas, but they are the touch point by which the student can access these sources."

Whether students are seeking guidance in planning their degree program or information about financial aid options, NISS exists to help institutions build an infrastructure for proactive advising.

How to Improve Student Outcomes
The NISS is founded on three core principles that have guided Georgia State’s student success work for more than a decade:

  1. Institutions inadvertently hinder student success through policies, practices, and structures that are among the key drivers of equity gaps.
  2. Institutions can use data to identify and understand these barriers to completion.
  3. With the right coaching and support, institutions can create more equitable enrollment, retention, and graduation outcomes.

These improved outcomes, in turn, create increased revenues from tuition and fees, making many of the new initiatives self-sustaining financially.

"In short," explains Dr. Renick, "we can do the right thing by better supporting our students while simultaneously building stronger financial footings for colleges and universities using predictive analytics, proactive advising, and analytics-based financial aid distribution and micro-grants. We cannot only raise graduation rates, but we can help students from underserved backgrounds."

He offers this action-oriented road map for how the NISS helps its institutional partners assess their readiness to adopt change and provide step-by-step implementation support:

  • Universities can reduce equity gaps by establishing a national culture of innovation and new approaches for large-scale, positive transformation of student outcomes.
  • Predictive analytics, holistic data analysis, and AI-enhanced chatbots can aid universities in identifying and addressing institution-created completion barriers.
  • Universities can achieve more equitable outcomes in the enrollment, retention, and graduation of students from diverse backgrounds through the scaled implementation of proven, data-informed, student-support systems.
  • While these new approaches to admitting, registering, advising, and supporting students can produce transformative results, they require practical know-how best taught by professionals who have already successfully implemented such programs on their own campuses.

Proactive Advising in Action
Dr. Renick shares some nuts and bolts of proactive advising:

"We’ve begun to think of our professional advisors as concierges. They’re the touch point for students to gain access to the resources and supports they need. Right now, at Georgia State, we’re tracking every single undergraduate every day for 800 risk factors. The potency of early alerts is being able to intervene with a student in a timely fashion. If a student is struggling in their course, we need to talk to that student within hours or days, not five or six weeks later. What happens on your campus when a student is changing majors? What is the protocol for guiding that student from a business degree over into a college of liberal arts and landing them safely? If a student has paid for and registered for a course and is withdrawing in the middle of a semester, how do you respond? What happens when a student is on the path to falling out of compliance with Satisfactory Academic Progress?

"Why data is so important is it can be used to help advisors deal with student issues much more efficiently. Our academic advisors are in regular contact with our office of financial aid if a student is running out of eligibility for aid or falling out of compliance for their loans. With 54,000 students at Georgia State, we don’t always have the time to sit down with a student for 45 minutes. But if we know the 230 students who need to submit a particular form by 5:00 this Friday, we can use a chatbot to create the list and send out personal messages. That’s what I mean by coordination: your financial aid office having good information that can be shared with academic advising, so this information can be pushed out and the students can get the help they need in a timely fashion."

Sharing the Model
"The lessons learned by Georgia State are transferrable," Dr. Renick asserts. "We've had six consecutive years during which our Black, Latinx, and low-income students have graduated at or above the student body overall, and it's been a practice that has been shared with other institutions, not only across the U.S., but across the globe. The federal government has proposed national funding for scaling evidence-based programs that help college students succeed. If we can only get a hundred institutions over the next few years to adopt these practices, we would be talking about graduating over half a million additional students, the majority of whom come from low-income and underserved backgrounds. While American education was not designed to produce equitable outcomes, we now have the power to redesign our campuses to provide timely, individualized support to all students. As Georgia State University has shown over the past decade, the results can be transformative."

Note: Visit the National Institute for Student Success online to learn more about their mission, strategies, and services.

Links Mentioned in This Episode
• The University Innovation Alliance (UIA)
UIA Liaisons
Dr. Tim Renick ("A System for Student Success: A Conversation With Tim Renick, Executive Director, National Institute for Student Success at Georgia State University" by Bridget Burns, 8/5/21)
• The National Institute for Student Success (NISS) at Georgia State University
The future of academic advising ("The Future of Academic Advising" by Bridget Burns, 6/23/22)
The Chronicle of Higher Education

Guest Bio

Tim Renick, Executive Director, National Institute for Student Success (NISS) at Georgia State University
Dr. Tim Renick, who has led Georgia State University’s student success efforts since 2008, is the founding executive director of Georgia State’s National Institute for Student Success, and Professor of Religious Studies at Georgia State. Previously, he served as Georgia State's Senior Vice President for Student Success, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies, and Director of the Honors Program. Between 2008 and 2020, he directed the university's student success efforts, overseeing one of America's fastest improving graduation rates and the elimination of all equity gaps based on students' race, ethnicity or income level. Dr. Renick has testified before the U.S. Senate on strategies for helping low-income university students succeed and has twice been invited to speak at the White House. His work has been covered by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Time, and CNN and cited by former President Barack Obama. He was named one the 16 Most Innovative People in Higher Education by Washington Monthly, and received the Award for National Leadership in Student Success and the McGraw Prize in Higher Education. He has served as principal investigator for more than $30 million in federal and private research grants in student success. A summa cum laude graduate of Dartmouth College, Dr. Renick holds his M.A. and Ph.D. in Religion from Princeton University.

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