ISU, alliance report early success in increasing graduation rates

The 11 universities, Iowa State included, that formed an alliance in late 2014 to help improve college graduation rates, recently received $3.8 million in new funding. The new money for the University Innovation Alliance (UIA) came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation and USA Funds.

A collaboration of top-tier research institutions, the UIA has four objectives:  producing more graduates, graduating more students across the socioeconomic spectrum, sharing data and innovating together.

Increases in low-income graduates

Since its inception, UIA members have increased the number of degrees awarded to low-income students (defined as those eligible for Pell Grants). Collectively, from 2012-13 to 2014-15, UIA members graduated 3 percent more low-income students. Iowa State was well above the norm during that period, raising the number of Pell-eligible graduates from 952 to 1,292 -- a near 36 percent increase.

The alliance universities will give special attention to predictive analytics over the next few years. With an $8.9 million U.S. Department of Education grant, the universities, led by Georgia State University, Atlanta, will study the impact of analytics-based advising on student success.

Iowa State's analytics study

An advising analytics study already is underway at Iowa State. Since last fall, advisers in selected departments have been piloting use of a software program that analyzes 10 years of Iowa State data to predict current students' chances of graduating in their chosen majors.

Early results appear promising and, next fall, all ISU advisers will have access to the analytics program for their advisees.

"This year, the UIA will focus on using predictive analytics to enhance success of low-income and first-generation students through more intensive advising interventions," said Steve Freeman, University Professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering and Iowa State's UIA liaison. "We'll begin tracking students that begin their Iowa State careers in fall 2016 and by following their progress over the next three years, we will be able to provide research-based evidence of the impact of predictive analytics and the use of the data to enhance student success.

"In addition to these large projects, we have tweaked some of our student success initiatives based on the best practices from other UIA schools," Freeman said. "We are leveraging the collaborative nature of the UIA to improve practices at Iowa State that not only impact the target population of low-income students, but enhance student success for all students."

With the latest $3.8 million investment, the UIA has been awarded $18.45 million in total funds. Supporters include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, Kresge Foundation, Lumina Foundation, Markle Foundation, USA Funds and U.S. Department of Education.

Related stories:

Advisers test big data's potential, Feb. 11, 2016
Iowa State joins alliance to help more students graduate, Sept. 18, 2014