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Institutional Solutions

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January 23rd @ 2:00 PM ET

Enhance the level of learning in your classroom by asking higher level questions for problem solving, making connections, and peer interaction. This webinar, led by Cindy Albert of the University of Wisconsin--Eau Claire, will provide tips for creating question prompts, as well as how to craft the follow up questions to encourage deeper learning.




Intuitively, we know a lot has changed in higher education over the past ten years, both with our students and our practices, in particular with campus housing. And, we can think of many stories that reflect these changes. But, which of these stories show up in our data, and what in the data surprise us? Using data from the last ten years of the ACUHO-I/Benchworks Resident Assessment, we’ll explore ten key trends from the last ten years in housing.



In the search for and creation of open educational resources (OER), faculty must be aware of copyright and open license protections and uses of materials under the law. All types of works have a license outlining terms or conditions of use. This webinar will review all forms of licensing of published and unpublished works designated all rights reserved, in the public domain, or with a Creative Commons license. We will discuss the rules for distributing, performing, displaying, copying, and/or making derivatives of a work based on its license.


One of the biggest challenges with assessment data is making sense of it and acting on it. How do we know when results are outstanding or concerning? What if the results are below average? What should our target performance be? Benchmarking can help provide answers to these questions and more! In this webinar, we'll explore what benchmarking is, why campuses would use benchmarking, and different types of benchmarking.


Clickers can dramatically improve your students’ engagement in the classroom. But, like all teaching tools, there are more and less effective ways of incorporating them into your class. This webinar will include a brief review of the motivations for using clickers, as well as practical guidelines for ensuring their success, including writing effective questions, facilitating student discussion and choosing a grading policy that minimizes stress for you and your students. Enrollment will be limited to ensure all participants have time to ask questions and share experiences.


Data from benchmarking assessments has the potential provide valuable insights into the college student experience, put results into context, and motivate staff to drive program improvements. However, applying benchmarking data in practice to things like strategic planning, accreditation, and resource allocation can be challenging. What are some practical strategies for making the most of our benchmarking data? In this webinar, professionals from several four-year institutions will highlight examples of how they have used benchmarking data from ACUI/Skyfactor assessments—including student union, activities, and student employees—to improve both their work and the experiences of their students.


Student engagement and affordability are hot topics on most campuses of higher education. In this webinar, Leif Nelson, Director of Learning Technology Solutions at Boise State University, will discuss these important topics, and will share specific examples and initiatives of how Boise State is addressing these challenges to help their students succeed.


Using a student engagement tool integrated into your campus learning management system can help engage students and help you measure student performance. Join Dr. Leslie Hendrix, Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of South Carolina and active learning guru, as she shares her best practices from using both the iClicker student engagement tool and Canvas learning management system in her own classroom.


Nursing programs purpose themselves to be accountable to communities of interest—to include the nursing profession, consumers, employers, peer institutions of higher education, students and their families. CCNE accreditation validates the success a nursing program achieved related to mission, goals and outcomes. As nursing faculty and administrators, we have to be able to nimbly understand and communicate our program outcomes based on data we collected and analyzed—we need agility to draw conclusions as to what our communities of interest value and what makes our program unique and effective in fulfilling our mission. Join this webinar to learn how to use internal and external data sources to provide evidence of programmatic assessment plan effectiveness. The speaker will address ways to effectively “tell your success stories” to CCNE site visitors and communities of interest through use of multiple data sources. The audience will be given examples of how relevant data sharing, sculpted to fit specific communities of interest, can optimize and leverage program outcomes.


Join us to discover how iClicker is built on the science of active learning. Marcy Baughman, Director of Impact Research at Macmillan Learning, will discuss how her team is using learning research, learning design, data-driven insights and Impact Research to develop and refine the iClicker classroom engagement tool -- and how usage of iClicker can lead to higher student in-class engagement and better course outcomes.


This webinar, hosted by Kathy Roberts of the University of North Texas, presents how they implemented a new student response system--in this case, iClicker Cloud. Ideal for instructional technologists and those working in the departments of teaching and learning, Kathy will present steps (and mis-steps) they experienced along the way to an a successful implementation. This webinar is also well-suited for faculty and deparment heads interested in standardizing on a single student response system.


A vital component of CAEP accreditation is the need for reliable and valid data to demonstrate continuous program improvement. Part of the requirements, specifically those in standard four of the CAEP accreditation standards, call on teacher education programs to demonstrate not only satisfaction of program completers and employers, but also the preparedness of completers to positively impact student learning. In this webinar, one campus that recently earned CAEP accreditation will highlight how they use a variety of data sources—including national benchmarking assessments of graduating seniors, alumni, and employers—to support CAEP accreditation efforts, benchmark against peer institutions, and drive continuous improvements to their teacher education program.


Student Response systems are traditionally thought of as in-class tools. And why not? They are great for creating connections, improving student focus, identifying misconceptions, and giving every student a voice. But there are a variety of ways that schools are beginning to use Student Response systems. Dr. Kimi King of the University of North Texas will present some ways that she uses iClicker Cloud (the Student Response System at UNT) in creative, out of the box ways. This presentation is ideal for faculty or administrators interested in adopting a SRS for the institution, and how to maximize that investment.


One of the biggest challenges with assessment data is making sense of it and acting on it. How do we know when results are outstanding or concerning? What if the results are below average? What should our target performance be? Benchmarking can help provide answers to these questions and more! In this webinar, we'll explore what benchmarking is, why campuses would use benchmarking, and different types of benchmarking. Participants will learn about practical strategies for making the most of benchmarking data for any campus.

Sara Jo Lee

Nursing Education

Posted by Sara Jo Lee Nov 30, 2018

For almost two decades, in effort to evaluate (and therefore strengthen programming) as well as support accreditation, Skyfactor Benchworks in partnership with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) created assessments to measure the effectiveness of certain program elements from the student perspective.1


The findings from this assessment allowed for an exploration of how nursing programs influence and contribute to learning outcomes related to professional values, core competencies, technical skills, core knowledge, and role development.


Professional Values

In response to demonstrating accountability in areas such as advocacy for vulnerable patients, fairness in the delivery of care, honoring the rights of patients, and delivering culturally competent care, at least 75% of the students reported this as being taught at “moderate” or “large” extent.2


Core Competencies

At least 67% of students indicated the nursing program taught them to apply research-based knowledge as a basis for practice, to assist patients in understanding/interpreting the meaning of health information as well as correctly evaluating a patient’s ability to assume the responsibility of self-care. 60% of students reported that the program taught them to make effective presentations.


Technical Skills

80% of students indicated they gained technical skills related to assessing vital signs and applying infection control measures from the nursing program. Approximately 75% reported being taught skills related to providing pain reduction measures and medication administration by all routes. Related to those, 60% and approximately 67% of students indicated being taught to manage wounds and provide emotional support in preparation for therapeutic procedures, respectively.


Respondents were divided into groups by previous healthcare experience before entering the nursing program: less than one year, 1-4 years, more than 4 years. When analyzing responses, the differences in professional value and core competencies were statistically significant but small. The biggest difference was in technical skills with respondents entering the nursing program with less than four years of healthcare experience being more likely than other respondents to indicate that the nursing program taught them technical skills such as assessing vital signs and applying infection control measures. There are also significant and important differences among degree programs as it relates to learning outcomes. In a comparison of BSN, RN, and Accelerated programs, respondents from the Accelerated program were far less likely to indicate being taught learning outcomes related to professional values, core competencies, and technical skills than respondents completing BSN and RN relationships. To drill down further, while the percentages of BSN and RN completion respondents indicated their program had taught them learning outcomes related to professional values and core competencies, RN completion respondents were significantly less likely than BSN respondents to report their program had taught them to assess vital signs, apply infection control measures, provide pain medication measures, and administer medications by all routes.


Core Knowledge

At least 65% of students reported that the nursing program taught them to apply an ethical, decision-making framework to clinical situations and to assess predictive factors that influence the health of patients; and 60% reported being taught to use appropriate technologies to assess patients, communicate with healthcare professionals to deliver high-quality patient care, and understand the effects of health policies on diverse populations (with an understanding of the global healthcare environment).


Role Development

The majority of respondents reported that they were taught the idea of lifelong learning in support of excellence in nursing practice. More than 60% indicated they were taught to incorporate nursing standards into practice, integrate theory to develop a foundation for practice, and delegate nursing care while retaining accountability.


As was the case of technical skills, previous healthcare experience impacted the degree to which students indicated the nursing program taught key core knowledge and role development learning outcomes. Students with four or more years of previous healthcare experience were more likely to report on being largely taught learning outcomes outside of technical skills to a large degree such as: understanding the effects of healthcare policies on diverse populations (73%), assisting patients to achieve a peaceful end of life (71%), understanding how healthcare delivery systems are organized and the global healthcare environment, and incorporate knowledge of cost factors when delivering care. Along with reporting a higher value on life-long learning, respondents indicated being taught to integrate theories and concepts from liberal education into nursing practice and delegating nursing care while retaining accountability.


There were also notable differences between degree programs as it related to learning outcomes with significantly fewer respondents from Accelerated nursing programs indicating that they were taught learning outcomes related to core knowledge than BSN and RN completion respondents.


Overall, the majority of student respondents indicated the nursing program (regardless of program or previous healthcare experience) had taught them to achieve a variety of key learning outcomes related to professional values, core competencies, and technical skills.



1. Skyfactor Benchmarks, in partnership with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), created the Nursing Education Assessments to measure the effectiveness of programs from the student’s perspective. During the 2013-2014 academic year, 24,793 students participated in the undergraduate assessment.

2. All percentages reported here indicate responses of “moderate” and “large” extent.

Macmillan Learning remains committed to helping all users enjoy equal access to our digital learning solutions. We put accessibility, information security and user privacy at the forefront of our product development and marketing practices. Check out our VP of Information Security & Privacy, Stephen Davis, discussing our commitment to accessibility, security and respect of our users' privacy.


Owing to the immense responsibilities entrusted to teachers, teacher education programs are tasked with setting a curriculum that prepares students for the challenges and rigors of professional teaching. Administrators must identify which components of the program are most effective, which are not as effective, and refocus their efforts accordingly. Data from the 2017-2018 Benchworks Teacher Education Exit survey provides program administrators with valuable insight into students’ overall learning and the aspects of the program that contribute to it.


This research note details findings from the Benchworks Teacher Education Exit Assessment of over 2,500 graduating teacher education students from 21 colleges and universities in the United States. In particular, this research notes explores concepts—both learning and satisfaction—that relate to overall learning as a result of the teacher education program experience.


Key Questions:

  1. Who are our teacher education program graduates?
  2. How do graduating teacher education students rate their overall experience?
  3. Which learning factors relate to overall learning in teacher education programs?
  4. Which satisfaction factors relate to overall learning in teacher education programs?

In a previous blog post, I wrote about the importance of building student communities to student success. Long story short, valuable connections are happening across campuses each and every day. And, we need valid data points to pair with the powerful stories we have on the prevalence and impact of these connections.


Given the importance of campus connections to sense of belonging and broader student success, it is of value to explore the physical spaces where these connections often occur. One area on campus that is primed to be a central point of building and strengthening community is the student union. Student unions and student centers, by their very nature, are intended to be a hub of student life, activity, and connections on campus. And, these environments are increasingly designed and intended to support student learning.


Designed in partnership with ACUI, the ACUI/Benchworks College Union Assessment provides campuses with valuable data on the college union experience. The assessment contains a wide range of questions, ranging from when and how these use the facility to satisfaction with different services. It also measures key learning outcomes that we would expect our students to gain as a result of their interactions and experience in these facilities. And, with over a decade of data from over 250 colleges and universities in the United States, we’ve learned a lot about the college union experience.  


So, what have we learned? Here are three, high-level things we consistently seen in the national data:


Students visit unions frequently


If a facility is meant to be the hub of student life, it should be a facility that students frequent often. And, data from our assessment shows that this is indeed the case. For the 2017-2018 academic year, nearly 90% of survey respondents indicating visiting their college union at least one during the academic year. Of those who visited at least one, four out of five visited their union at least once per week, while nearly 25% reported visiting at least one a day or more. And, while those visits are spread throughout the day, the period of time with the highest traffic is between 9am and 2pm, when two-thirds of respondents indicated they typically visit their college union.


Students visit for a variety of reasons


From providing options for dining to spaces for student activities, and offices for key services, college unions are remarkably diverse in their services and offerings. And, the national data on why students visit their college union or student center reflect the wide-ranging purposes of the facilities themselves. When asked to identify the top three reasons out of over fifteen for visiting their college union, almost everyone--98%--indicated that food-related offerings were a top reason for visiting. Other top reasons for visiting their college union included:


  • Studying (91%)
  • Meeting others (88%)
  • Attending programs or events (78%)
  • Visiting the bookstore (77%)
  • Relaxing (71%)
  • Attending student organization meetings (68%)


So, the national data reflect that, while students are visiting their college union for more transactional needs, like buying textbooks or getting lunch, they are also utilizing the facility for connecting, as many of the top reasons for visiting include meeting other students, attending programs, or attending organization meetings.


Unions successfully help to build a sense of community


For a college union to be successfully fulfilling its mission of serving as a hub of student life and helping to build a sense of community, we would expect more than usage data showing numerous visits for a variety of reasons. We would also expect student perceptions of those unions--centered around both satisfaction and learning--to highlight the role that unions play in supporting student success. Nationally, the data from the ACUI/Benchworks College Union Assessment reflects just that.


Across a variety of outcomes, union visitors indicated that their experience with unions, their activities, and their services all reflect a facility that is truly the hub of student life and connections. For instance, nearly three out of four union visitors were both satisfied with the extent to which their college union promotes a sense of community on campus and agreed that their union is a place to get involved in campus life.


Furthermore, student perceptions also reflect the role of unions and union activities in contributing to learning. For instance, 40% of union visitors indicated that their college union experience enhanced their ability to interact socially. And, 26% of visitors indicated that their college union activities expand their understanding of their role as a citizen of the college community.


To top it off, unions do this while being conscious of student activity fee dollars. When considering the fees paid to support their union with the quality of activities and services provided, 88% of union visitors rated the value of how their dollars were spent as at least “Fair.” 37% of visitors rated the value of their dollars as very good or higher.


So, at a high level, unions help to bring students together; provide opportunities for learning that, among other things, build campus connections; and provide all of this and more at a valuable rate for students.


Want more? We’ve got you covered

There’s much more to the college union experience than three high-level findings. How do the visit rates differ across key populations? What concepts most closely predict high union effectiveness? How does frequency of visits relate to reasons for visiting or satisfaction with the facility? For these points and more, check out two of our recent research notes, one of which goes deeper into what we’ve learned about the college union experience and the other explores frequency of visits and how it relates to union perceptions and usage.   



And, if you have other questions that we haven’t addressed yet in these notes, ask us and we’ll add it to our list!

Student staff members—commonly known as resident assistants or community assistants—support primary functions in our residence halls, facilitate community development, and provide learning opportunities to residents. For a position so critical to residence life, in particular one that continues to evolve and grow, it is imperative that we understand the current experience of our student staff, what they learn, and how important quality student staff members are to the broader college student experience. However, even with all of this research and our anecdotal understanding of the importance of the position, little empirical research exists on what RAs gain from their experience and how quality RAs relate to the overall housing experience of residents. Furthermore, what research does exist is often limited to single-campus studies or qualitative research.


This research note details findings from the ACUHO-I/Benchworks Student Staff Assessment, specifically a sample of over 3,000 student staff from 43 institutions. In particular, this research notes explores the relationship between the student staff member experience and their intent to return to their positions in the following academic year.


Key Questions:

  1. How many student staff members intend to return to their positions?
  2. What aspects of the student staff experience are most closely related to intent to return?


Student staff members—commonly known as resident assistants or community assistants—support key operations in our residence halls, facilitate community development, and provide learning opportunities to residents. For a position so critical to residence life, in particular one that continues to evolve and grow, it is imperative that we understand the current experience of our student staff, what they learn, and how important quality student staff members are to the broader college student experience. However, even with all of this research and our anecdotal understanding of the importance of the position, little empirical research exists on what RAs gain from their experience and how quality RAs relate to the overall housing experience of residents. Furthermore, what research does exist is often limited to single-campus studies or qualitative research.


This research note details findings from the ACUHO-I/Benchworks Student Staff Assessment, specifically a sample of over 3,000 student staff from 43 institutions. In particular, this research notes explores which concepts most closely relate to a quality student staff experience


Key Questions:

  1. Who are our student staff?
  2. How satisfied were student staff with their overall experience?
  3. What concepts related to high perceptions of the student staff experience?



The expansion of open educational resources (OER) in higher education has led to a rush of commercial companies looking to provide OER-related services. Many if not most of these companies have brought products to market based on loose assumptions about what OER actually are and few have taken the time to learn and apply principles of the open education community that underlie the increase in OER use. Our group at Macmillan Learning strives to be different.


Like other commercial publishers new to open education, we first understood OER only in terms of open textbooks and other resources that were disrupting the business of our commercial titles. But unlike most companies, our desire to learn from the people advancing open education, through conference attendance, campus visits, countless phone calls, and some “constructive” criticism on Twitter, led us to realize that the mission of open education complemented Macmillan Learning’s own mission to improve lives through learning. This was evident to me at my first Open Education conference and has carried through as teams at Macmillan and Intellus Learning focus on bringing OER-awareness to our company and incorporate principles of open education into our activities and services.



We listened - and still are.

Engaging with people and learning from them often results in correcting course, and correcting course is easier when there are guide posts to follow. It should start by taking a “do no harm approach” to avoid openwashing; it is carried forward with the 5Rs of open licensing (retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute) that provide a structure to the promise of openly licensed content; and last fall, the offering of the CARE Framework provided an outline on not only how we can provide material and support services but how we orient ourselves to the open education community. The introduction of the CARE Framework has proven valuable context to mature our organization’s understanding of open education.


You can find the many ways we align with the CARE Framework on our website.


We support open licensing to improve student learning - not just lower costs.

We understand the CARE Framework is not a set of criteria to check-off, but the beginning of a conversation. The conversation starts with access, but how we improve learning through the use of OER immediately follows. Pre-packaged free alternatives to commercial products will not suffice. Agency, empowerment, and validation are needed, too. To that end, the value of the Intellus Learning platform exists in the insights it provides on licensing and accessibility, its value in reducing information gaps and increasing efficiency in the discovery and usage of OER.



A Curriculum and Campus Approach to Supporting OER

Most OER-related services provided by commercial companies follow the money, and those companies believe the money lies solely in supplying services for general education courses. There is no shortage of companies claiming that they have the out-of-the-box solution to OER usage in introductory psychology, college physics, or U.S. history. Few companies, however, are developing resources that support the use of OER throughout the curriculum. The Intellus Learning platform enables instructors and course designers to discover and select resources from a database of more than 6 million OER assets structured in a taxonomy built around the undergraduate curriculum. In addition, Intellus Learning can provide insight into use of popular library databases like EBSCO, ProQuest, Springer and Films on Demand (just to name a few), and as a result it can be used to effectively identify, aggregate and deliver OER and freely available resources up and down the curriculum - not just in general education courses. Since Intellus-identified OER is delivered through the campus LMS, full-scale campus implementations can be more easily managed by campus technology.


Curated Courses Serve as a Foundation for an Individualized Experience

To make finding and delivering open educational resources even easier, we created Intellus Open Courses, using carefully curated, quality OER delivered via a customizable, affordable course to students. Each Intellus Open Course contains content from openly licensed eBooks and instructor resources such as presentation slides and test bank questions that have been created by Macmillan Learning and shared under Creative Commons licenses. Each course includes additional open and freely available resources including YouTube videos, optional institutional library content, primary source documents, and more. In our effort to ensure we are not charging for open content that can be freely-accessed elsewhere, all content that is included in an Intellus Open Course is linked to on our public website, no passwords, no paywall.


Also unlike other offerings, central to our mission is to enable instructors to make each course their own by taking advantage of the powerful search and discovery tools within Intellus Learning to add or remove content and design their course to fit their individual course needs. Adopters of Intellus Open Courses receive support services, including on-demand training and implementation support.



Continuing the Conversation

The CARE Framework as well as so much of the work by the open education community has helped us become better participants in the conversation around open education. We welcome more feedback on how we are doing and look forward to many future conversations about how Macmillan Learning can be a participant in the broader mission of open education. Tell us your thoughts below, tweet us or email us at



Charles Linsmeier is senior vice president, content strategy, at Macmillan Learning, where he manages the social science, curriculum solutions, and high school programs. A graduate of the University of New Mexico, he began his career at Macmillan Learning in 2000.

Last week, our Learning Science and Insights team released a whitepaper, "Beyond the Hype of Big Data in Education". In it, our team of learning designer researchers and data scientists outline how data can be used responsibly to more effectively impact big data. The data mining and learning analytics processes outlined in the whitepaper demonstrate the type of deep analysis, consideration and empathy that Benchworks has been recognized for more than 20 years. With partnerships with more than 1,500 institutions of higher education, as well as with key program accrediting bodies for the departments that our assessments service, we remain committed to providing programs with nationally-normed assessments and benchmarking that help better understand what's working on their campuses and how to best facilitate improvements with innovative programs. One of the key takeaways from the whitepaper is that there is a difference between data and insights. Benchworks will continue to endeavor to provide robust, but accessible program insights - not overwhelm you with data. If you would like to learn more about how Benchworks program assessments can support your institutional and department initiatives, please reach out to your local Assessment Specialists.skyfactor - blog post

At Intellus Learning, we are so excited and proud to be working with the American Public University System. Let's continue to reduce the cost of higher education through affordable course materials. 

Read the full article!

Have you ever felt like there weren’t enough hours in the day? With the start of the fall term upon us, it’s very likely you may be feeling that way now! For faculty, administrators, and students alike, the beginning of the school year marks a time of renewal, filled with emotions ranging from excitement to anxiety. At Macmillan Learning, we’re humbled to work with all stakeholders in the education community to help learners achieve their wildest dreams.

Today we are excited to announce a contest to capture the realities, challenges, and motivations of higher education faculty, staff, and students. Through original and captivating video or essay, communicate “What drives you to #AchieveMore?” We talk to faculty and students every day, and often hear incredible stories about perseverance and the determination to succeed. We want to hear more of your stories and will reward the most creative storytellers!

“Each day we hear stories of people who have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of higher education and those who work to support and encourage others in that pursuit,” said Ken Michaels, CEO of Macmillan Learning. “So we are really excited to facilitate the storytelling process and hopefully inspire the next generation of teachers and learners while at it.”

The contest, open to any student, faculty, staff person, or administrator over the age of 18 at an accredited college or university in the United States, runs from August 27th, 2018, to November 2nd, 2018. Submissions will be reviewed from November 2nd to November 30th, 2018 and evaluated based on relevancy, authenticity, organization creativity, and tone.  Three winners in each category will be announced on December 14, 2018, on the competition website: First place winners in each category will receive $500, second place winners in each category will receive $250, and third place winners will receive win $100.

Full contest details can be found at:

Sara Jo Lee

OER in the News

Posted by Sara Jo Lee Aug 17, 2018

It’s an exciting time to be exploring Open Educational Resources (OER), and we wanted to share some great articles that recently caught our eye:


We update and augment our Intellus Learning content library every month to make it the most current and comprehensive OER catalog possible. Here are some of the most recent additions to our platform:


  • 2012 Book Archive - A project by Andy Schmitz that archives some of the open books.
  • The American Yawp - A Free and Online, Collaboratively Built American History Textbook.
  • Galileo Open Learning Materials - brings together open educational resources throughout the University System of Georgia, including open textbooks and ancillary materials.
  • iBiology Videos - Open-access free videos that convey the excitement of modern biology and the process by which scientific discoveries are made.
  • National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science - award-winning collection of peer-reviewed case studies.
  • REBUS Community - OER covering various topics created by faculty, students, and staff from schools, colleges, and universities around the world, along with regular people who believe that educational materials for every subject should be a free and open public resource.
  • ScholarWorks@GVSU - Open-access repository maintained by the GVSU Libraries that showcases and maintains works by GVSU scholars.
  • Smarthistory - A free resource for the study of art history created by art historians Beth Harris and Steven Zucker. Smarthistory is an independent not-for-profit organization and the official partner to Khan Academy for art history.
  • The Society Pages - The Society Pages (TSP) is an open-access social science project headquartered in the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota and supported by individual donors.TSP consists of in-house “TSP HQ” articles, blogs, podcasts, “Community Pages” and content produced by their partners.
  • UCI Open - A web-based repository of various UC Irvine courses and video lectures from UC Irvine faculty, seminar participants, and instructional staff.
  • YouTube Channels

Nearly 1/3 of all undergraduate students leave college after their first year. From the cost of education to personal constraints at home, students face additional pressures that weigh on their ability to complete college. The most surprising factor that leads to a student leaving college before graduation is a failure to live up to the self-imposed expectations of success while at school.


Getting through college is about finding balance between academic success and developing additional skills that can be utilized regardless area of study. There are a variety of soft skills a student should possess, such as time management, attention to detail, and the ability to effectively communicate both verbally and in writing, in addition to others in this vein. For students to truly succeed in college and leave school with applicable skills regardless of their career path, it’s important to recognize there is more to higher education than coursework. It’s crucial all students are given opportunities to hone these soft skills as they learn.


The will to succeed - Grit


Sherry Woosley, Director of Analytics and Research at Skyfactor, believes the “true essence” of grit, a popular topic in today’s academic circles, hones in on three essential concepts for students: focus, effort, and recovery. Students should be able to ask themselves whether they have the focus to accomplish what needs to get done, the ability to put forth the effort required to be successful, and the recovery strategy necessary to bounce back when things get rough. Instilling in students the tenants of grit gives them a coping mechanism to hunt for success in college and life, leading them toward the successes they will need to remain motivated to stay in college.


What you teach in the classroom beyond academics - the soft skills


Equally important to grit are the basic soft skills that one needs to progress in college, especially within that first year as students are adjusting to living a completely different lifestyle. Going from high school to college can be a jarring experience for some, but crafting the right combination of soft skills can enable students to cope with the changes they’re facing. Matthew Venaas, a Research Manager on the Analytics and Research Team at Skyfactor highlights a few key skills which can help students meet their expectations of success within their first year of college.

  • Interpersonal skills - according to Venaas, first-year student who are able to build relationships with their peers to build a fulfilling social life and connect with faculty in their major or program are far more likely to have a high first-term GPA. Building a strong network can then can help lead a student to academic success. This skillset also plays out positively within the classroom for students who don’t shy away from collaboration. The willingness to work with other students, actively contributing to the conversation in the classroom, can also positively impact a student’s GPA, giving them a chance to grasp information they may have struggled with on their own.
  • Persistence - this relates back to grit in not giving up when things get hard, but rather seeing a challenge as an opportunity to work even harder. Being resilient and self-motivated to do the absolute best you can, bouncing back when things are tough, is an important trait of successful students.
  • Productivity - there are quite a few skills that could be placed into this category, most of which must be learned and practiced often. Staying organized and effectively managing time are two big areas students can struggle with as they transition into college.


While students won’t see the fruits of their labor until final grades come out each semester, it’s important to encourage them to build the right skillset throughout their college career that compliments academic achievement, so that no matter what they’re learning, or working on once they leave college, they’ll have the tools they need to find success.

It’s in the data: How to pinpoint attrition risk factors


Only 59% of students who begin a college career as an undergraduate earn their bachelor’s degree within six years from the same institution where they start their study, according to a recent survey. That means 41% of the students in this pool leave college for one reason or another. In order to combat this statistic and improve retention rates, it’s important to be able to pinpoint attrition risks and face them early on with students, within their freshman year if possible, in order to provide students with the motivation and skills to complete their college degree.


Predicting attrition risks


While there may be some universal risk factors for attrition that come up regularly in conversations on this topic, it’s important to be able to know for sure what your particular students are confronting that may lead to them leaving college. Are they lacking particular skills needed for success, or are they simply not fitting into college life?


Surveying students can be a great option, but it shouldn’t be the sole choice for collecting information, according to Sherry Woosley, Director of Analytics and Research at Skyfactor. “While surveys can be crucial to identifying at-risk students, I would not recommend using only surveys to predict risk.” Other possible options can include tracking data you, as faculty already have access to, such as:

  • Pre-college experiences
  • Enrollment patterns
  • Academic performance
  • Course or campus engagement
  • Financial Aid
  • Utilization of student services

Including these types of additional data can help create the right combination of proven sources instead of relying on just one.


How surveys can help


Surveys have the potential to highlight areas where students are consistently struggling whether it’s academically or something else. Non-academic issues can be just as debilitating for student success as those connected to coursework and should be addressed by faculty. Things like homesickness, poor study behaviors, and a lack of integration into college life are all possible areas of struggle for students away at college, but how would you know what they’re going through without asking them?


Figuring out the best way to utilize survey data to discover risks for attrition may mean relying on outside sources that have better access to a broader data set. Skyfactor has done some of the research for you in this regard, releasing reports related to issues affecting a large section of the student population such as homesickness or overall usage of student services.


To see how your specific group of students are doing, Mapworks helps predict risk while looking at the whole student. It provides an early-term snapshot to show who might be most at risk along with the contributing factors. Used each day, you can track the progress of your students and monitor their success closely enough to to institute intervention strategies when necessary, at the earliest stage.


Where else to track data


Even students not experiencing the issues mentioned above can be at risk for leaving college, which is why it’s important to find data outside of that collected in surveys to evaluate attrition risks. A few other data sources which can help highlight risk factors include:

  • Enrollment patterns
  • Academic performance over time
  • Course engagement
  • Campus engagement
  • Utilization of student services


Tracking data from these sources can not only highlight specific areas of risk, but can also tell you at what time of the year these risks occur. Does utilization of student services drop off after the first month or two? Do fewer students enroll in second semester courses? Noting these trends can allow faculty to combat these issues at the right time of year to have a positive effect in decreasing attrition.


Attacking the problem head on during orientation


Another strategy faculty may want to adopt to mitigate attrition risk is addressing common issues within the first week of the start of class. Ensuring students know what services are available to them for support, fully explaining your expectations for the course, and providing students with the right tools to help them develop the skills they’ll need to succeed are all ways you can support students’ efforts to succeed in college.


Teaching your students to have grit is another way to help them begin their college experience on the right foot. Among the tenants of grit is resilience. Instilling in students the ability to recover from whatever challenges they face through focus and effort is perhaps the best coping mechanism you can give them to fight those factors that could lead to leaving college. Prepare students for disappointment, because college doesn’t always live up to expectations, and then show them how to overcome and press forward.

Nearly 1/3 of undergraduate students leave college after their first year, but this statistic can get smaller with the right attention to thoughtfully collected data on attrition risk. This can be achieved by varying the sources for data and then working with students early to address risks and ensure they have the right skillset to succeed.