The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.
At Illinois State University, we are working on plans to improve our students' recruitment and retention as our institution's financial stability is dependent in considerable part on enrollment. With higher education projected demographic declines, higher education funding uncertainty, and increased competition, we are required to assess new enrollment strategies and improve on current practices to increase student success and retention. One of these practices is reducing the courses with high DFW rates.
We know from extant research that students who fail or withdraw from a class are less likely to be retained, take longer to finish a degree, and have the potential loss of financial aid and scholarship. At our institution, courses with high DFW rates cause students to retake courses that are already in high demand, which poses challenges for meeting enrollment needs. Also, when students do not do well in STEM courses, in particular, they don't have the GPA to get into other majors, and they either leave and attend a community college or they do not return to higher education. Data are available to identify courses with high DFW rates. Still, data has not been shared systematically with Chairs, Directors, and faculty. No formalized structure exists for assessing courses with high DFWs in a holistic manner, and information about DFW courses is not disaggregated by race/ethnicity, which poses challenges for equity.
I explored possible solutions to this problem with guidance from EAB experts, resources from EAB (e.g., Course Completion Playbook), and collaborations with colleagues at my institution. I was also paired with a capstone "buddy," Dr. Lila McDowell Carlsen, from Pepperdine University. Lila and I met multiple times to share ideas and feedback on our respective projects.
Through my research and collaborations with colleagues at my institution, we are taking a holistic approach to improving courses with high DFW rates by:
- Promoting the use of data-driven practices,
- Incentivizing colleges and departments by rewarding behaviors that demonstrate a commitment to student success,
- Raising awareness about courses with high DFW rates at the department and course level
- Offering options for course redesign to improve student outcomes, emphasizing the role of faculty excellence in teaching to support student success at the course level
First, as an institution, we are working towards a more systematic use of data to drive planning, improve retention and graduation rates, and address equity gaps. At the College/ department level, in September 2020, we rolled out the Recruitment, Enrollment, Retention Incentive Program (RERIP). This program has three categories that provide additional funding opportunities to reward behavior that demonstrates a commitment to student success (one of the categories includes reducing the number of courses with high DFW rates).
During the fall 2020 semester, the AVP for Student Success and I began holding initial meetings with Chairs and Directors to have conversations about student and faculty success initiatives, emphasizing that student success initiatives must include attention to the classroom experience. During these meetings, we shared data on departmental DFW courses, discussed the data, brainstormed some solutions, and shared some initial resources and guidance (i.e., EAB course completion diagnostic).
Finally, I am working with the Center for Teaching Learning and Technology (CTLT) team to develop a course redesign program for student success in alignment with our Framework for Inclusive Teaching Excellence. We know from extant literature that course instructors with training in evidence-informed teaching methods are more successful in their instructional roles and that well-taught courses yield greater student engagement and achievement. This course redesign program will be offered to departments and faculty who want to improve student outcomes.
See the fellows' blogs from the capstone projects
Amy Capolupo and others participated in the Spring 2021 EAB’s Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship