Eduventures Summit

Four Ways to Impact Student Success

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Each year at Eduventures Summit, we recognize the accomplishments of a handful of schools across the country with an Eduventures Innovation Award. This year, we honored four.

Among them: online giants, a small private university, and a school at one of the oldest institutions in the country in the midst of a modern-day transformation.

While their initiatives are intriguingly different, this year’s winners all started with the same problem—how to improve the student experience. They also share commonalities that any school can emulate.

For example, each chose a specific focus born out of its unique institutional culture. This may sound straightforward, but there are dozens of paths toward impacting student success. Trying to do too much at once risks spreading yourself thin and impacting little, while reaching for a cookie-cutter solution risks ineffectiveness within a unique cultural context.

Another commonality: meeting students where they are. Too often, knowing what prevents students from being successful and making resources available to them isn’t enough. Each of these schools also solved for adoption by embedding its initiatives in courses, advertising new services in places they knew students would be, personalizing the interventions, or providing students with options.

Finally, not all, but many submissions showed a particular emphasis on solving for non-academic barriers to success. These included building soft skills, reducing anxiety, fostering social connections, or taking the time to learn how students learn.

Outsourced technology and services continue to play a critical supporting role in these initiatives, but rarely the starring role.  Several winners described finding the right solution only after the initiative’s vision was firmly in place with their teams. The technology or service was key to launching faster than they could have otherwise, or achieving greater scale. In all cases, the vendors were described as “extensions” of their teams. Finding one that not only provided needed tools and expertise, but also embraced their mission, was key.

Read on to learn about four stories of innovation.

Eduventures 2019 Innovation Award Winners  

Personalized First-Year Mentoring Initiative


In 2014, Adelphi University (Adelphi) faced a troubling issue: a low retention rate among students of color. This was particularly worrisome for a campus with a student body that was 45% nonwhite. Many of these students came from low-income backgrounds and were the first in their families to attend college. Many felt marginalized and had no connection to life on campus.


Adelphi launched a First-Year Mentoring Initiative. The goal was to address problems as soon as—or even before—they arose. The initiative began in 2014 with just 10 students paired with 10 trained mentor volunteers among the faculty and staff. Because the university prides itself on taking a personalized approach to learning, mentoring seemed like a cultural best fit.

The program is highly personalized, focusing on each student’s unique needs and goals – be they academic, social, financial, or career-oriented. It begins in the first days a student is on campus. Making appropriate matches between mentee and mentor is what Adelphi calls its “secret sauce.” Matching begins when each mentee fills out a detailed application form, providing information about hobbies and interests, role models, favorite subjects in school, and more. This is followed by in-person interviews.

Effectively training the volunteer mentors is also key to success. The program follows a curriculum developed according to structured guidelines and evidence-based best practices tailored to each student’s needs.


While the program has succeeded in many ways, Adelphi is most proud of its impact on African American students. In just four years, it has raised the graduation rate of this group from 36.7% to 54%.

It has also helped students in the program achieve a GPA slightly higher than the university average (3.42 vs. 3.37). The number of total participants in the program has expanded from 20 to 148.

Additionally, the program has also met its most immediate goal, achieving 100% first-year retention of all student participants.

What’s Next? Adelphi is now turning to technology for assistance. It is working with the school’s newly-acquired learning management system to build a mentor community online, putting all of its curriculum and training tools in one easy-to-access location.

Peer-to-Peer Simulations for Negotiation Mastery Course


Nearly a decade ago, Harvard Business School’s dean, Nitin Nohria, famously said that the school would never go online in his lifetime. Today, HBS Online operates a dozen online courses with enrollment of about 50,000 students worldwide. These courses are designed to simulate their on-campus counterparts, and in 2017, the next obvious course to launch online was Negotiation Mastery. While HBS Online takes pride in an enviable level of student engagement, the topic of negotiation presented unique challenges when determining how best to deliver high quality in an online format.


It was important to HBS Online’s internal team of developers, user experience designers, instructional designers, and product experts to develop a course that broke free from linear course content. The course needed to analyze learner competencies and place them on personalized paths.

Launched in Spring 2017, the resulting course provides students with the opportunity to engage in four live negotiation simulations with their peers via real-time chat. Afterward, the students are presented with analytics to explore how the negotiation unfolded. At the end of the course, they are equipped with a set of tools to craft ongoing negotiation strategies and a framework to guide learning and improvement.

Key to success was a partnership with Extension Engine, who became a true extension of the HBS Online Team. With its help, the HBS Online team was able to build out the learning paths, real-time chats, and post-negotiation analysis tools more quickly than it would have been able to on its own.


Since launching the Negotiation Mastery course, HBS Online has seen a course completion rate of 96%, compared to an average course completion rate of 94% across its other courses.

Additionally, prior to taking the course, 21% of participants considered themselves to be “very knowledgeable” or “knowledgeable” about negotiation skills and strategies. After taking the course, this number jumped to 88%.

What’s Next? The HBS Online team intends to continue monitoring and improving the course by gathering feedback through the course platform, a Facebook group it established, end-of-program surveys, and program services support requests.

Expanding Academic Support to Improve Persistence


About four years ago, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) made two observations about its programs and services. First, enrollment (now at 135,000 students) was growing rapidly—so fast that it was challenging to keep up. Second, it noticed that the students who used academic support services persisted at higher rates than those who did not. It was at this time the university decided to invest in its Academic Support Center to better serve students.

But with students in every corner of the country, how would they do this at scale? How would they serve the right student with the right service at the right time?


With the goal of increasing student usage of its services, the Academic Support Center invested in the following services:

  • Professional coaching in writing and STEM – pre-scheduled, one-on-one sessions with professional writing and math coaches
  • Peer tutoring – pre-scheduled, one-on-one sessions with peer tutors who have experienced and excelled in similar coursework
  • Weekly webinars and workshops – course-specific workshops facilitated by peer tutors and skill-specific workshops facilitated by professional coaches
  • 48-hour feedback on written assignments – student may submit papers for professional review and receive feedback on structure, grammar, and research
  • Drop-in tutoring – for immediate inquiries and subject-specific support, customized tutoring is available within each course
  • Learning communities – a dynamic social network where students in similar courses and programs discuss topics, share tips, and answer questions
  • Live chat – a Live Chat functionality offered through the library
  • Increasing the visibility of services – advertising the Academic Support Center resources on the student portal, LMS landing page, individual courses, and learning communities
  • More staff – additional staffing and staffing schedule adjustments

Key to SNHU’s success at scaling the program quickly was partnering with outsourced tutoring vendors. One in particular, called NetTutor, opened a brand-new tutoring facility dedicated to SNHU where the tutors call themselves “SNHUtors.” It has become a trusted and impactful partner in this endeavor, matching the school’s own quality and embracing its mission.


After expanding its academic services, the university saw an increase of more than 50% in student attendance in webinars and workshops with peer tutors and writing center coaches. It also observed that students who used the services persisted at rates of 10-15% higher than those who did not.

When SNHU first launched this initiative, it set a modest goal of increasing the number of distinct students using Academic Support Services by 3%. In fact, they’ve seen the number of students increase from 45,000 to 75,000, or more than 60%.

What’s Next? The team at SNHU understood that achieving its goals would require a shift from focusing on content, to focusing on student behavior. The university has spent a lot of time, and will continue to spend time, understanding the learning process and how to help students handle anxiety.

Online Interventions to Improve Student Success


Western Governors University (WGU) has built its innovation on the premise that higher education has traditionally taken a one-size-fits-all approach to learning. But while the “one-to-many” or “sage on a stage” approach works for some, it leaves others behind. Recognizing that students have different needs and learning preferences, the central objective of WGU’s innovation is to learn how to help students learn better.


With these goals in mind, this online giant established the Center for Applied Learning Science, or “CALS” for short, to develop new technologies and learning models for the benefit of not only its own students, but also students at other institutions. A key feature of the CALS output are technology-based learning modules it calls “online interventions.”

These learning modules are embedded within the learning management system (LMS) at WGU and at a few other pilot schools. They are administered to students as part of a course or through a required registration process. Whenever possible, their efficacy is assessed using randomized controlled trials.

  • Example #1: After discovering a performance gap in its quantitative courses, including college algebra, WGU conducted interviews and survey research with students to better understand what was going on. These revealed both academic and psychological factors contributing to underperformance. In response, CALS developed four self-service, online modules—designed predominantly to normalize math anxiety—to foster a learning mindset and mitigate maladaptive beliefs that prevent learning.
  • Example #2: Noting research showing that building students’ soft skills correlates to greater academic and career successes, WGU developed a Professional Leadership and Communication course. It was developed and rolled out for use in randomized trials in its Teachers College.

In its first year, students who took the online intervention designed to reduce math anxiety showed statistically significant increases in those with a growth mindset (i.e., the belief that your talents can be developed through dedication and hard work).

At the time of submission, more than 20,000 students and counting had taken the Professional Leadership and Communication course. These students are more likely to pass difficult courses faster, more likely to attempt more courses each term, and more likely to pass courses at higher rates. Additionally, in a student survey, more than 76% of students who took the course indicated they were more motivated to graduate.

What’s Next? These are two examples of many other projects CALS is working on. The team describes design as its core competency and is investing in talent, including its learner experience designer pipeline and an employee training program, to expand its team and impact on students.


Tuesday June 25, 2019 at 2PM ET/1PM CT

Most colleges and universities are defined by a physical campus in a fixed location, while online learning knows no geographical bounds. Now that fully online enrollments account for about 15% of all undergraduates, and more than 30% of graduate students, the relationship between school location and student location is changing.

A few schools have used online to become national players with large numbers of students in every state, while most institutions have a predominantly local online student body. But does the future favor national or local online markets? Which strategy—local, national, or both—is in the best interests of different types of schools and different types of students, and should policymakers and taxpayers care? The answers will either reinforce institutional locations and identities as we know them, or advance a completely different relationship between institution, student, and place.

In this webinar, we will review new Eduventures analysis of online higher education market dynamics, and the emerging terms of engagement in the battle for value.

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