An initiative to help colleges incorporate technology into their advising and support services that was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust has had little effect on student outcomes, an evaluation by MDRC and the Community College Research Center at Columbia University Teachers College finds.
The initiative, Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success (iPASS), supported the efforts of colleges to integrate education planning tools, counseling and coaching tools, and/or risk-targeting technology into their student services, with a focus on enabling advisors to intervene more quickly when students show early signs of academic or non-academic stress, follow up regularly with students as they progress through college, and provide tutoring and personalized guidance to students as needed.
Funded by the Gates Foundation, the report, Integrating Technology and Advising: Studying Enhancements to Colleges' iPASS Practices (87 pages, PDF), examined early outcomes at three of the twenty-six institutions that received grants in 2015 — California State University, Fresno; Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania; and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte — and found that the initiative resulted in greater emphasis on providing timely support, the use of advising technologies, and administrative and communication strategies designed to encourage student contact with advisors. At the same time, the study found that such "enhancements...have not yet produced discernible positive effects on students' academic performance, with large proportions of students who were identified as being at high risk still earning Ds or Fs or not persisting with their education in subsequent semesters."
Lessons learned from the study include the difficulty of scaling such assistance quickly while continuing to substantially impact individual students' experience; the limitations on advisors' time and capacity to use new data and technologies during student meetings; the importance of designing incentives for students to meet with advisors; the challenges of collecting survey responses from students; the potential for glitches with proprietary technologies; and the importance of collaboration within institutions.
Despite the lack of clear improvements in students' academic performance, some staff members at the three colleges felt that the initiative represented an "important [step] toward a stronger system to support students and help them succeed." A follow-up report next year will present qualitative findings about the implementation of iPASS enhancements in greater detail and provide practical guidance for those interested in using new technologies to redesign their own advising practices, while a final report to be issued at a later date will document the effects on longer-term student outcomes.
(Photo credit: California State University, Fresno)