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The University Innovation Alliance's Three Playbooks for Student Success

The University Innovation Alliance's Three Playbooks for Student Success

The University Innovation Alliance (UIA) operates as a multi-campus laboratory for student success innovation. Since launching in 2014, UIA institutions have increased the number of graduates of color produced annually by 93% and the number of low-income graduates produced annually by 50%, resulting in 118,000 more graduates than projected.

Since 2015, the UIA has supported a subset of member institutions participating in the Gates Foundation's Frontier Set – a group of high-performing, high-potential colleges, universities, state systems, and supporting organizations that are committed to eliminating race/ethnicity and income as predictors of student success by transforming how they operate. Our involvement with this group through some of our member institutions (Arizona State, Georgia State, and the University of Central Florida) has informed and inspired us to show how innovative course delivery models, use of data and technology, and cross-functional collaboration and organizational redesign can all improve equity in student outcomes and experiences. We've recently distilled some of our learning into three UIA playbooks that we invite you to download for free.

Proactive Advising
Between 2016 and 2020, the UIA conducted a randomized control trial study of proactive, predictive analytics-enabled advising for first-generation and Pell-eligible students across 11 campuses. In 2022, we released Proactive Advising: A Playbook for Higher Education Innovators, outlining what we learned about designing and delivering proactive advising within different university contexts.

This study, known as the MAAPS project (Monitoring Advising Analytics to Promote Success), yielded five components that we believe should be addressed when implementing proactive advising:

  1. Assessing the university’s organizational structure and advising culture
  2. Understanding and using degree plans and academic maps effectively
  3. Leveraging strong data-driven tools to help advisors guide students
  4. Ensuring dedicated advisor capacity and training to deliver targeted support
  5. Securing ongoing leadership support and investment


MAAPS demonstrated the value of an accessible, coordinated approach to advising. By developing detailed degree maps for hundreds of majors, the participating universities uncovered a wealth of information about why students were struggling to reach the finish line. While any such initiative will vary by institution, proactive advising has the potential to raise graduation rates and reap significant financial benefits for both students and universities. We look forward to continuing the dialogue around proactive advising and welcome inquiries about our work and experiences.

Completion Grants
Completion grants are an emerging form of student aid. In spring 2021, the UIA concluded its four-year completion grant initiative after providing more than 5,000 microgrants (valued at $3.6 million) to low-income students facing modest financial hurdles to degree completion as they neared graduation. Of these recipients, 83% remained enrolled or graduated within three terms.

In our Completion Grants Playbook, we share lessons learned and recommendations for institutions considering completion grants. We show our parameters to determine grant eligibility, the range of microgrants that worked best for qualifying students, and the scalability of this program across a variety of campuses. Among the challenges we identified were:

  • Institutional policies related to tuition, registration, graduation, drop for nonpayment, billing dates, and other areas related to student enrollment and success
  • Student attitudes toward debt and personal finance, their earning and borrowing patterns, and their understanding of eligibility for government grants and loans
  • The misconceptions about middle-income students' financial needs and eligibility for resources
  • Understanding how students may use their completion grant funds
  • The unique needs of transfer students


Dr. Tim Renick, Executive Director of the National Institute for Student Success at Georgia State University, powerfully illustrated completion grants' effectiveness during a panel discussion on innovative financial aid that we co-hosted this past September:

"For an average grant of about a thousand dollars, the graduation rates for those students go right back up. Do you know of other uses of institutional aid where for a thousand dollars you can change the outcomes from a 30% graduation rate to an 80% graduation rate? You invest a little bit in these students, not only do they graduate at much higher rates, but the institution generates more revenue by holding onto these students. It's in effect the fiscally selfish thing to do; at the same time, it's the morally right thing to do."

College to Career
Career preparation is a core objective of a university education. For many students, it's also the primary goal. Yet are campus career services doing the job we need them to? Students currently receive limited guidance on how to gain the skills and experience required to achieve career goals. Faculty and staff feel pressured to help but lack the resources to do so. Employers look to colleges and universities for skilled candidates, but they are often stymied by outdated recruiting practices that place barriers between them and students.

Between 2018 and 2020, seven University Innovation Alliance institutions utilized change management and human-centered design principles to identify and deconstruct barriers to successful career readiness for first-generation and low-income students. The Bridging the Gap from Education to Employment (BGEE) project, funded by Strada Education Network, aimed to improve career outcomes for the most vulnerable students by reimagining the college-to-career pathway. The project engaged teams on each campus in an intensive landscape analysis process, empathy work with student and employer stakeholders, and building and piloting innovative solutions.

Through BGEE, we identified five steps toward career readiness:

1. Understand and map the current career readiness reality
2. Redirect and infuse career services expertise across campus
3. Build a career readiness-first culture
4. Connect curricula to the workforce
5. Design transformational, accessible, skill-building experiences for students

To learn more about our New Model for Equitable Career Readiness, we invite you to download Bridging the Gap from Education to Employment: the UIA's Playbook for Transforming College-to-Career.

Welcome to the University Innovation Lab
We hope that you find our playbooks useful. We offer them as examples of the resources we create and share with our member universities in the University Innovation Lab. The lab launched this year, and we're excited to celebrate this hub where faculty and staff from our member universities can collaborate. It is our goal to invite others from outside our coalition to take advantage of the resources we develop. Join the University Innovation Lab's waitlist, and we look forward to collaborating with you in the New Year and beyond.

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