UES at CU Denver

Considering that the subject of increasing the number of students who complete their degrees, and do so in less time for less cost, has “gotten really complex,” it was fitting that the 13th Annual CU Denver Undergraduate Experiences Symposium covered a lot of ground and filled an entire day.

The Oct. 20 event included a welcome by Provost Roderick Nairn and a keynote address by Ed Venit, who is a senior director with the Education Advisory Board (EAB), which has been working with CU Denver and our Student Success Partnership. EAB is a best practices research company based in Washington, D.C., that serves hundreds of universities worldwide.

The day also featured five mini “tED Talks” from our own leaders in various student success areas, a presentation on the new Student Success Collaborative (SSC) Campus software, and brainstorming sessions in which attendees who had chosen one of the “tED Talk” topics worked together at tables to identify the best ideas and next steps in that area.

Dr. Venit delivers keynote
Ed Venit, senior director of the Education Advisory Board, talks about student success management in his keynote address.

The symposium, organized by the Office of Undergraduate Experiences, brought together almost 200 students, faculty and staff from across the university to explore ways to enhance the undergraduate experience. Every year, the symposium draws more people into conversations that potentially impact all members of the CU Denver community.

Managing student success

This year the gathering coincided with the EAB partnership and the launch of new technical tools for academic advising – the SSC Campus software. The technology will help advisors tailor their approach to each individual student and help faculty and staff utilize predictive analytics to identify students who might benefit from proactive advising and additional support.

Dr. Venit conceded that the topic of his keynote, “student success management,” sounds a bit “corporate,” but said these practices are necessary in the changing world of higher education and student retention:

  • Next-generation, data-driven and proactive advising.
  • Degree progress monitoring.
  • Integrated career preparation.
  • Strategic financial interventions at key points in student progress toward completion.

Venit said the subject of student success – which incorporates undergraduate experiences, retention and graduation rates – has grown complex with “dramatically expanded” best practices, especially since the Great Recession.

“Ten years ago, if I had asked who is on your student success committee, it would have been a relatively small group – mostly Student Affairs folks and the occasional academic affairs person,” Venit said. “Now, that committee is the entire cabinet – it’s a campus-wide effort… The diversity of practices applied to the success problem have really changed.”

Key to the effort is collection of data, he said. And, keeping with the theme of the symposium – collaboration – Venit delivered case studies of a dozen universities that have deployed innovative strategies to:

  • Graduate more students.
  • Graduate them in less time at lower costs.
  • Improve post-graduation outcomes.

‘Can-do’ practices

He gave examples of universities using campaigns to maximize the number of credits students pursue, personalized interventions designed to keep students on track, and initiatives to ensure students apply for graduation. Regarding the latter example, he said, “At CU Denver, the Academic Advising Success Team is setting this up right now. Your six-year graduation rate is 48 percent. If you’re looking to get that to 60 percent, this is some of that low-hanging fruit.”

Some other “can-do” approaches and highlights from the mini “tED Talks” delivered by these CU Denver leaders:

Jeff Franklin, associate vice chancellor for Undergraduate Experiences, spoke on “One Recipe for Student Success:”

  • “Students who perceive that their coursework has a purpose have a 15 percent higher GPA.”
  • “Underrepresented minority students who feel they are connected to their institution have a 12 percent higher retention rate.”
  • “Students who take freshman-year courses – ones they can see are leading them toward the field they believe they are interested in – have greater commitment to their own education.”
Attendees at UES at CU Denver
Almost 200 faculty, staff and students attended the Undergraduate Experiences Symposium on Oct. 20.

Margaret Wood, director of the Center for Faculty Development and professor of Anthropology, spoke on “Great Teaching and Student Success:”

  • Explaining her own experiences in Michigan as an undergraduate student: “As an underprepared student, there were tons of people who helped me out … but what was also really important to my success were the things that my professors did in the classroom.”
  • “When I go to conferences and attend sessions on student success, I hear a lot about the importance of advising. I hear a lot about big data. I hear a lot about the importance of first-year experiences, and the importance of students going to orientation. I’m the first to say I think all of those things are really, really important, but what I don’t hear is anything about teaching.”
  • “When faculty use evidence-based teaching practices, academic outcomes improve, retention rates raise and achievement gaps narrow, so I encourage you to think about the role that great teaching plays in student success.”

Nimol Hen and Angela VanDijk, director and assistant director, respectively, of the Academic Success and Advising Center, talking about “Advising Reforms for Student Success:”

  • “You are an advice giver, and students will look to you for that.”
  • Each student has a story and enrolled with a goal. Use creativity, compassion and curiosity to help students dream big and aspire to achieve their goals.
  • “We have made great strides establishing a baseline for good practices in advising,” explaining CU Denver’s advances through the Advising Task Force, the Academic Advising and Experience Council, new technology and the Chancellor’s Action Group on Advising.
  • “Even though there’s more work to be done, you have the potential to become the reason a student stays.”

Richard Allen, associate dean for Teaching, Learning and Curriculum in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, spoke on “Collaborating for Inclusive Excellence in Science:”

  • Allen talked about the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) $1 million grant CU Denver received to improve course outcomes for underrepresented first- and second-year college students studying science. CU Denver is one of 24 higher education institutions awarded the 2017 Inclusive Excellence grant.
  • “We use inclusive excellence as a guiding principle, committing to integrating diversity, equity and educational quality issues in our intervention.”
  • “Far more than the grant funding or any individual resource or investment that we’ve made, this collaboration is the catalyst to drive transformational change on our campus.”

Brenda J. Allen, vice chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion, discussed “What is ‘Inclusive Excellence’ and How Does It Serve Student Success?”

  • “Inclusive excellence is something we need to rally around as an approach that combines inclusive excellence in a positive way, because for the the most part in higher education, explicitly or implicitly, we seem to view that statement – those two words together – as an oxymoron.”
  • The notion of inclusion encompasses everyone: those who are underrepresented, represented and well-represented on our campus.
  • “Inclusive excellence is a framework, a process and an approach that says we need to connect inclusion and excellence … one without the other is not going to get us to the phenomenal pathway that we’re on, to really achieve and accomplish what we’re so capable of doing.”

Contributors: Storm Gloor, associate professor in the College of Arts & Media, contributed the photo at top, and Sarah Tanksalvala, a CU Denver student, contributed reporting to this story.

CU in the City logo