Eduventures Summit

The Essential Innovation Checklist

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When it comes to innovation, why is it that some organizations struggle to escape internal inertia? What do innovative colleges and universities do differently than others? One place to look for answers is our panel of 2017 Eduventures Innovation Award Winners (and four runners-up) announced at our annual Eduventures Summit last week. True to this year’s theme, “Higher Ed Remastered,” these institutions demonstrate that innovative organizations tend to identify and build on their strengths—of which they have many—rather than start from scratch. With more technology, tools, and data at their disposal, they have never before had more opportunities to make the right changes.

2017 Innovation Award Winners

Enrollment Management Strategy Purdue University
A New Approach to Teaching, Learning, or Student Support Wellesley College
A New Approach to Teaching, Learning, or Student Support Michigan State University
Defining and Reporting Outcomes Texas State Technical College
What can we learn from these innovators among us? Here are a few common characteristics, for starters:
  • Take your time. These organizations reported spending between two years and a decade or more on their innovative initiative so far. In many cases, one small success led to larger ambitions with greater impact. Their stories demonstrate that results are rarely immediate and expecting a quick outcome may be a recipe for failure, or at least missed opportunity.
  • Don’t fear transparency. Being transparent doesn’t come easily to many organizations. More than one award-winner mentioned the need to overcome the instinct to selectively share data and information with their counterparts across campus. Rather, their initiatives show that transparency breeds better understanding, more ideas, increased engagement, and a culture of trust and openness that must be nurtured to achieve bold goals.
  • Involve everyone. It may sound cliché, but it is worth noting that no Innovation Award winner—or runner up—achieved their innovative initiative by engaging only a single department or set of stakeholders. Collaboration, and the variety of perspectives and voices it requires, is clearly a key ingredient.
  • Embrace analytics. While not every Innovation Award winner used analytics to achieve its goals, it’s hard to ignore the one theme that all but leapt off the submission pages this year: the use of data analytics. The sheer prevalence of analytics indicates the impact it is having in higher education.
  • Break the mold. As you read about these innovators, or design your own innovations, it is important to remember that every organization starts from a different point. There is no cookie-cutter path. Institutions of all stripes—from traditional liberal arts colleges to wholly online universities serving adult learners—have room to remaster themselves. Don’t assume that what is innovative for one institution will be innovative at another.
We applaud these schools, and the many others who submitted an innovation for consideration this year, for their accomplishments.

About Eduventures Innovation Awards

The Eduventures Innovation Awards program recognizes the achievements of individuals and organizations that share Eduventures’ vision for improved outcomes through innovative programming that supports critical areas of an institution. Selected by a jury of higher education leaders and advisors, NRCCUA and Eduventures showcased this year’s winners at a ceremony during our annual Eduventures Summit in Boston.  

2017 Innovation Award Runners Up

Enrollment Management Strategy Ivy Tech Community College System
A New Approach to Teaching, Learning, or Student Support Excelsior College
A New Approach to Teaching, Learning, or Student Support Bay Path University
Defining and Reporting Outcomes University of Colorado Boulder, Leeds School of Business


2017 Innovation Award Winner Profiles


Enrollment Management Strategy
Background: A few years ago, the enrollment office at Purdue University (Purdue) found itself struggling to satisfy the keen interest of its many schools and units about how admissions season was progressing. While it did distribute customized, Excel-based dashboards to more than a dozen different stakeholders across campus, they were labor-intensive. They did not show progress toward admissions targets. They did not compare progress across colleges. Furthermore, the enrollment office strongly suspected, very few deans, faculty, or others actually read them—many preferring to pepper them with questions all admissions season instead. Innovation: When the university decided to adopt Tableau, a data visualization platform, as its enterprise business intelligence tool, the enrollment office offered to pilot the first project. The objective was to not only present the information from the previous Excel dashboards in a more user-friendly manner, but also to show progress toward enrollment, deposits, and comparisons to previous years on a variety of metrics; essentially, everything admissions at a glance. Implementation: Developing the dashboard was a collaborative process, involving enrollment, information technology, and representatives from many schools and units. The end goal was transparency, so everyone’s needs had to be represented. Outcome: Today, the enrollment data speaks for itself. Since the data updates daily, everyone across campus knows exactly where they stand. The on-demand transparency has engendered shared governance and responsibility for enrollment, including faculty who are more educated about the process. Additionally, there were some unintended outcomes, most notably in efficiencies and improved decision-making around enrollment operations.
  • The enrollment office went from using 13 data sources down to two: the dashboard and their constituent relationship management (CRM) platform.
  • Over the past four years, the insight from the dashboards has contributed to increasing their class size by 1,000 students that are more diverse, and less international—a key objective.
  • This was done without any increase in merit aid.


A New Approach to Teaching, Learning, or Student Support
Background: Wellesley College (Wellesley) found itself at an impasse just two years ago: the satisfaction of its students with career education was at an all-time low of just 45%. After listening to more than 350 stakeholders across campus, it identified the following needs:
  • New staffing model and structure
  • Industry expertise across all industries
  • Stronger engagement of faculty and alumnae
  • More seamless technology
  • More purposeful articulation of liberal arts education by all
Initiative: Made possible in part by an anonymous $50 million charitable gift, Wellesley decided to elevate the importance of its Career Education unit, looking to design a career education model that would engage 100% of its students from the moment they stepped on campus all the way to retirement. In collaboration with academic faculty, the alumnae association, and the advancement office, it set out to achieve the following goals:
  • Hire an associate provost for Career Education
  • Increase the number of internships and job opportunities
  • Increase student engagement with the Career Education office
  • Create a personal advisory board for each incoming student
  • Develop a career connections and communities team
Implementation: Within the first year, the college has completed the reorganization phase, hired 19 new staff members, and is looking to years two and three to fine-tune internal processes, sharpen relationships, and create signature programs. Outcomes: Since its launch in September, the college has seen a dramatic increase in engagement and satisfaction, including:
  • 148% increase in student Career Education appointments compared to Fall 2015
  • 223% increase in jobs and internship opportunities compared to Fall 2015
  • 82% of the student population has logged into the career platform since launching in August 2016
  • 44% of the student population has made an appointment with Career Education in the first semester of the new model
  • Student satisfaction with Career Education has risen to 98%, from its low in 2015 of 45%


A New Approach to Teaching, Learning, or Student Support
Background: Michigan State University (MSU) set a goal of a six-year graduation rate of 82% by 2020. To achieve this goal, the university knew it had to close opportunity gaps for lower-income, first-generation, and underrepresented minority student populations. To achieve this, it needed to reduce the time and cost to attaining a degree. Innovation: MSU developed a university-wide, cross-functional effort, it calls the “Student Success Transformation Initiative.” Fueled by an investment in analytics, the effort focused on improvements in five key areas:
  1. Advising
  2. Curriculum and instruction
  3. Data and technology
  4. Internal reviews of processes impacting student life, in particular its Neighborhood Student Success Collaborative
  5. University stakeholder engagement and education
Implementation: Through the implementation of retention-focused analytics, MSU used descriptive statistics to identify patterns, peaks, and valleys in student data. It identified five key indicators correlated to outcomes risks, including:
  1. First-year writing scores: those scoring in the 2.0-2.5 range persist at rates of 15%-20% less than those earning a 3.0 or above.
  2. Low grade point average (GPA) during the first year: only 27% earn a degree within 6 years and 42% are not retained to year two.
  3. Early credit loads determine long-term credit gains: students carrying credit loads of about about 12 credits per term are much more likely not to complete.
  4. Students with high D/Fail/Withdraw (DFW) rates: students with a high proportion of DFW classes are less likely to graduate.
  5. Students with GPAs in decline: this risk was found to be particularly high for students in the “murky middle,” with GPAs in the 2.0-3.0 range.
The university implemented solutions that included course experimentation, early intervention targeting, a “15-credit and four-year” campaign to encourage intensive first-year loads, and proactive advising and tutoring. Additionally, the university developed new guidelines for advisors, including goals around collaboration, tools, ongoing professional development, and assessment and metrics. Outcome: Michigan State has made steady and modest progress. For example, it increased six-year graduation rates by 9% points and persistence rates by 3%. Retention analytics indicate that it is tracking toward an increase in the number of students who are on time for graduation in 2020, with 86% presently meeting this target, surpassing the original goal of 82%.


Defining and Reporting Outcomes
Background: Texas State Technical College (TSTC), in response to a 2007 request by the Texas State legislature to consider adopting outcomes-based performance measures, committed the institution to shifting toward a 100% outcomes funding model tied directly to student employability outcomes. This included student earnings and placement outcomes. Initiative: Developed in collaboration with many government and non-government entities in Texas, a funding model was developed based on wage and placement information gathered through the state’s unemployment insurance program and supplemental data from federal agencies like the office of personnel management. Ninety-two percent of students had data. Implementation: Once the chancellor made his public commitment to the new model, TSTC began what it considered a “monumental transformation:”
  • The program mix was assessed.
  • Campus locations were evaluated.
  • Industry partnerships were reconsidered.
  • Faculty and department chairs redoubled their efforts to align what was taught in the classroom with what was needed in the workplace.
Outcome: Since the adoption of the new formula, TSTC has consolidated its 10 Texas locations into a single accredited college with standardized curricula and instructional processes. It improved completion and hiring numbers. The combined graduate earnings of TSTC’s annual cohorts increased 70% from 2009 to 2015. Additionally, average graduate adjusted starting wages climbed 13%.  

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