Eduventures Summit

Innovation for Access, Equity & Inclusion: 2023 Eduventures Innovation Awards

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In the age of ChatGPT, talk of innovation is pervasive. But at a time when technology is taking center stage, we celebrate institutions that exemplify an unwavering commitment to serve students better, recognizing technology as one essential component.

At the annual Eduventures Summit 2023: Higher Education Remastered, we honored three institutions making bold moves to improve access, equity, and inclusion in higher education. Congratulations to Arizona State University, Augsburg University, and Western Governors University.

Arizona State University – Earned Admission for Greater Access & Equity

Augsburg University – 100% Direct Enrollment for Inclusion and Belonging

Western Governors University – Faculty-Led Interventions for Student Persistence

We also extend special congratulations to George Mason University, LSU Shreveport, Purdue University, and Spartanburg Methodist University for Recognition of Achievement!

Here are their stories.

Arizona State University

Earned Admission for Greater Access & Equity


Over six years ago, Arizona State University (ASU) identified an important gap in access: qualified learners were not able to enroll because they weren't able to demonstrate academic ability in prior academic settings.

The university had already addressed access concerns by updating minimum admission requirements but knew there were many learners who were still left out of the education ecosystem because they didn’t meet them. To address this gap, in 2017, ASU developed and launched an Earned Admissions program with limited financial and educational risk to allow learners to prove they were ready for college.


This program is designed for any learner, anywhere in the world.

It works like this:

  • Learners sign up for the program on the school’s website.
  • They then choose from over 60 courses and pay just $25 to start.
  • If they pass the courses and like their grades, they pay $400 for the academic credit. If they don't pass, they don't have to pay.
  • Upon completing either 12 credit hours (for learners over 22) or 24 credit hours (for learners under 22), they are guaranteed admission to the university.


To date, over 5,000 learners have earned admission to the university. These learners were previously inadmissible to the university. Once admitted, these students have had higher retention rates and GPAs than traditionally admitted students. In addition, over 50,000 other learners have taken some college classes. They either transferred those to other universities or are still working their way toward a degree.

In total, the program operates with a multi-million-dollar budget, nearly entirely funded by the $25 course initiation and $400 course credit fees that learners (or their organizations) pay.

Augsburg University

100% Direct Enrollment for Inclusion and Belonging


In 2019, at its sesquicentennial, Augsburg University adopted a strategic vision to be a new kind of student-centered, urban university. It wanted to prioritize student belonging; belonging that builds deeper relationships, changes systems, and dismantles the tenets of white supremacy and oppression in higher education enrollment management.


In Fall 2022, the University launched a new initiative for sustainable enrollment management supported by three pillars:

  1. Admit 100% of Students Using a Direct Admissions Program: Key to achieving this was participating in a pilot program with the state of Minnesota and the Common App. Direct admissions was intended to remove a crucial gatekeeping role, and with it, anxiety around the college application process.
  2. Student Success Enrollment Coaching: With less time spent reviewing applications, counselors have much greater capacity to provide coaching around academic success and affordability.
  3. Inclusive Academic Belonging: Through early engagement with faculty, students can build out potential academic pathways in advance, so they arrive at summer orientation empowered and ready to connect.

Augsburg envisioned a more equitable college admissions system where every student received an offer of admission by October 1 and a student aid package by December 1.  The remaining months of the traditional cycle were spent finding an authentic fit for their unique gifts, making a financial plan for college, and building relationships on campus.


In the first year of the program, the number of admitted students increased by 28%, and gross deposits increased by 16%. The average GPA of the incoming class is consistent with prior years. Yield has not decreased as much as anticipated (by only -1% to date), and deposit melt is holding steady compared to prior years. Among admitted students, about 300 additional students have filed the FAFSA and 200 additional students have received student aid packages compared to last year.

The Direct Admissions initiative was budget neutral, requiring a reallocation of the existing budget and reallocation of staff time to other types of activities that foster belonging.

Western Governor’s University (WGU)

Faculty-Led Interventions for Student Persistence


At its core, the innovation of this large, mostly adult-serving university was designed to address what it calls “friction” in higher ed. For most employed adults, friction is an important determinant of student progress and persistence.

WGU was challenged by the inability to identify levels and sources of friction early in the student journey and seeing students drop without knowing what services might have helped them persist. To improve student persistence, this university developed what it calls The Learner Centered Framework.


The Learner Centered Framework uses faculty to help identify moments of friction and provide personalized support through outreach. It includes an information system called a Learner Care Dashboard that triggers faculty to celebrate students’ achievements, provide focused support in the event of a non-pass, or prompt engagement if a student is inactive.

For example, if a student fails an exam, the instructor is notified through the Learner Care Dashboard to reach out for consultation within 24 hours. Depending on the event, outreach may involve encouragement or support in the form of resources, a 1:1 appointment, or an invitation to a live web conference event.

This initiative was launched in two phases: a limited launch phase and a wide release phase.
• The limited launch involved 59 faculty members and occurred between July 2018 and December 2018.
• The wide release in July 2019 included over 2000 faculty members, 800+ courses, and 60+ programs. Its launch required substantial faculty training.

Personalization at scale was a central purpose of the tool. The principal leadership challenge was achieving adoption of a tool designed to improve faculty efficiency while preventing it from being treated like a to-do list that could result in students perceiving faculty outreach as canned or impersonal.


While the initiative had a positive impact on all students, it had disproportionately positive effects for both struggling students and students who belonged to underserved populations:

  • Course completion rates increased by 19% overall. They increased by 23% for those who were predicted to struggle and by 29% for Black and African American students.
  • Drop rates were reduced by 16.4% overall.

WGU notes that this initiative required a substantial investment but one that has more than paid for itself with its impact on student retention.


Recognition of Achievement Award

We also recognize the achievements of four universities for their creative and competent approaches to everyday challenges – the kinds of challenges that we know nearly all of our university partners face.

George Mason University

Their Initiative: Engaging Financial Aid Videos for First Generation Students

Louisiana State University Shreveport

Their Initiative: Career-Focused Digital Advertising Campaign

Purdue University

Their initiative: Messaging to Students and Parents with Maximum Impact

Spartanburg Methodist College

Their initiative: Integrating Career Development Courses into an Interdisciplinary Bachelor’s Degree


Congratulations to all 2023 award winners!


Never Miss Your Wake-Up Call

Learn more about our team of expert research analysts here.

Executive Vice President of Eduventures Research, Encoura


July 17-19, Nashville, TN

Join us in Nashville this July for a professional development conference focused directly on your most pressing enrollment challenges. Educational tracks include: 

  • Admission and Marketing Best Practices 
  • Excellence in Test Optional Practice 
  • Diversity, Equity, and Access 
  • SEM Planning and Leadership

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