Explore how Florida Atlantic University doubled its four-year graduation rate using a multifaceted completion strategy that goes beyond traditional academic intervention.
Nationally recognized for its student success, Florida Atlantic University (FAU) is no stranger to dramatically improving student outcomes. One of the most diverse public research universities in the nation, FAU serves over 30,000 students and is ranked a top public university by U.S. News and World Report.
In 2015, in partnership with Civitas Learning©, FAU built a collaborative data infrastructure and culture to support sustained student success. Real-time visibility into their student data revealed that simply applying standard best practices and the latest higher ed trends was not impactful for their diverse student population. This discovery prompted them to shift away from one-size-fits-all tactics to a multi-faceted strategic plan for student success.
First, FAU focused on creating initiatives tailored to meet the needs of their particular students and student groups, including step-by-step roadmaps, a more flexible Bachelor of general studies, progressive academic grants, and more. By looking more closely at their particular programs and policies, FAU could remove barriers they didn’t see before, improve equity and eliminate the historical achievement gap.
Understanding the Impact of Student Involvement on Persistence
To continue the tremendous progress they’ve made throughout their partnership with Civitas Learning, FAU continually assesses and reevaluates how they can best support their students. Like many institutions, FAU also needs to use its limited resources wisely.
To that end, FAU’s Strategic Workgroup for Ascending to the Top (SWAT) wondered how campus involvement impacts their students’ progress toward graduation. And wanted to provide even more value to their students by connecting them to activities that could meaningfully benefit them throughout their college experience. Understanding the impact of student involvement programs on student persistence would allow them to identify where to reinvest resources and how to intentionally connect students with the right activities.
Student involvement is an essential driver for persistence, especially for those students who are least likely to persist.
To better understand how student activities like organization membership, career coaching, and campus recreation impact students, leaders periodically run analyses using the Civitas Learning Student Impact Platform, which controls self-selection bias for the most accurate results. Once student lists are uploaded into the tool, leaders can see how participating in campus activities lifted a student’s probability of persisting at FAU compared to students who choose not to participate.
Leaders learned that accurate participation lists were a vital ingredient in this process. To gather the quality data needed to run meaningful analysis, leaders standardized student involvement data collection and replicated these practices across campus to ensure they could track all student activities. Leaders cite two elements as essential to building a thriving assessment culture:
1. Ensure they had the data to run meaningful assessments- predictive analytics and accurate student involvement lists.
2. Equip cross-functional teams with analysis data to positively impact students who will benefit most specifically designating staff to look for opportunities to connect the most vulnerable students with meaningful activities.
What Student Involvement Analysis Revealed
FAU’s analysis revealed that student involvement is an essential driver for persistence, especially for those students who are least likely to persist. Not only could they see the impact of specific involvement opportunities, but they learned that any student involvement made a significant impact on student persistence. Their analysis examined a wide range of activities, including:
Involvement Initiative One: Owls Care
Owls Care Health Promotion provides a wide range of consultations and workshops on health-related topics for all FAU students.
Involvement Initiative Two: Campus Recreation
Campus Recreation offers a wide variety of fitness and recreational sports activities to the entire FAU community.
Involvement Initiative Three: Career Center
The FAU Career Center supports FAU students, alumni, and employer partners with the development of essential career skills, experiences, and connections.
Involvement Initiative Four: Student Involvement
FAU has nearly 550 student involvement activities ranging from academic groups, clubs, and social organizations. This initiative analysis considers any level of participation’s impact on student persistence.
Once SWAT identified the significant impact that any student involvement activity has on persistence, their Civitas Data Governance Team (CDGT) identified specific students who could benefit most from student success initiatives. Once students are identified, FAU’s Success Networks, teams composed of an assigned academic advisor, career counselor, and financial aid counselor, use this information to encourage students to get involved with meaningful activities.
Visibility into the impact of various activities enabled FAU’s Success Network to know precisely which initiatives could be most effective in helping specific students. By combining this approach with other impactful strategies they were able to significantly improve 4-year graduation rates across all student populations.
The Result? FAU More Than Doubled Its Four-Year Graduation Rate
FAU’s insight into what works for their students enabled them to build a multi-pronged approach to student success. This practice more than doubled its four-year graduation rate from just 19 percent in 2014 to nearly 48 percent in 2020, with the most significant gains among historically underserved groups, including Black, Latino, and Pell-eligible students.
FAU’s exhaustive work to understand student needs and provide effective student success interventions earned them the honor of being named a 2021 Degree Completion Award finalist by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.
The alignment of its data analysis culture with a strong commitment to equity resulted in significant gains in student success. More importantly, it removed historical barriers to equity, which resulted in historically marginalized students exceeding the graduation rates of FAU’s overall student population.