Today, we published three reports which highlight how the higher education system misses the mark for students, especially those from historically under-represented groups and those with financial needs. Especially for Black, Latino, and Indigenous students and students with financial needs, the college experience continues to be a challenging one.

Thanks to the participation of 7,400 faculty and administrators at more than 1,500 different institutions, these three reports, Driving Toward a DegreeHitting Their Strideand Time for Class, identify where in the student journey obstacles remain.

With the publication of these three papers, we have made the following discoveries. 

  • Nearly 1/3 of faculty report an increase in introductory course-level withdrawals or failures compared to last year. When combined with the enrollment declines at the undergraduate level over the last 2 years and even greater declines for Black, Latino, and Indigenous students and students with financial needs, the US higher education system is on the cusp of erasing the modest educational attainment gains that have been achieved across the last decade.
  • Academic advisors and administrators report, for the third year in a row, that large student caseloads are the biggest barrier to improving student success. Practices that have been proven to improve persistence–like mandatory advising sessions each year–cannot be implemented at scale due in part to unmanageable caseloads at many institutions.
  • Faculty and administrators report, for the third year in a row, that only about 1/3 of institutions have implemented developmental education reforms at scale. While progress has been made in dismantling biased placement policies and in offering co-requisite math and English courses that are credit-bearing, some of the problematic vestiges of developmental education still remain.

 

Pockets of Progress in Closing the Equity Gaps

 

While the macro picture is not good, there are pockets of progress illuminated in part by a novel technique that Tyton and its collaborators developed for measuring graduation rate gaps disaggregated by race and income-levels. Driving Toward a Degree studies the systems, practices, sentiments, and technology that enable student support, especially academic advising. Hitting Their Stride measures the adoption and current state of classroom implementation of key developmental education reforms. Time for Class examines the interplay of evidence-based teaching practice, digital learning products, and faculty attitudes in service of improving the student learning experience and introductory-level course outcomes. In each study, we have highlighted specific opportunities and challenges for closing equity gaps at the intersection of attitudes, practice, products, institutional infrastructure, and policy. For example:

  • Integrated, high-quality advising enabled by technology closes equity gaps. According to Driving Toward a Degree, institutions that have narrowed graduation gaps over the last decade for Black, Latino, and Indigenous students and students with financial needs are statistically unique in two ways: 1) at 2-year institutions advisor caseloads are smaller than peer institutions whose graduation gap widened and, 2) larger institutions are statistically more likely to have adopted caseload management technology and other integrative initiatives at scale than institutions who saw their outcome gaps widen over the same time period.
  • Measuring results disaggregated by race, socioeconomic status, and other factors promotes continuous improvement and scaling of practices that in turn closes equity gaps. According to Hitting Their Stride, institutions that have narrowed graduation gaps over the last decade for Black, Latino, and Indigenous students and students with financial needs are those that have gone beyond adoption of new developmental education policies; institutions that have narrowed these graduation gaps are statistically more likely to have practiced regular measurement of their reform effort and are transparent about results and ongoing refinement with institutional stakeholders.
  • Blended modes of instruction enabled by courseware save faculty time and correlate with the adoption of evidence-based teaching practices that close equity gaps. According to Time for Class, faculty who use courseware to blend online and face-to-face modalities of instruction save time and are statistically more likely to implement active learning, meta-cognition, and data-informed teaching.

The implications for the field from these findings are far-reaching. Institutions should be more motivated than ever to ensure students persist and graduate, and these studies offer specific actions to improve the student experience. Policy makers and researchers need to ensure that progress toward closing equity gaps is not eroded by creating the environment for scaled and sustainable implementation. Suppliers can identify opportunities to better support end users with target services and training.

 

Putting Students at the Center in 2023

 

We are excited to share that later this year we will be taking our annual study of these critical areas for improvement in a new and expanded direction. The student voice and experience have not been sufficiently prioritized in various efforts to improve outcomes in higher education. So we are launching an effort to change that. Our 2023 reports will build on prior years’ study of faculty and administrator perspective and will measure the experience of students with these specific components of their college experience. With the student at the center of this research and connected to the feedback we gather from faculty and administrators, we are excited to share with the field how the student voice will catalyze new insights in service of equitable outcomes.

We are looking for partners in this work–institutions, foundations, and suppliers all have an opportunity to collaborate in the development of this new direction and share in the unique insights generated by this work. If this sounds intriguing, we would like to hear from you.

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