Peer Review

Data-Driven Action Plans for Student Success and Inclusive Excellence

Morgan State University is a public urban research university in Maryland, with a current enrollment of 7,689 students, known for its excellence in teaching, research, public service, and community engagement. Classified as a Historically Black College and University, Morgan prepares diverse and competitive graduates for success in a global and interdependent society. In October 2015, Morgan was one of thirteen institutions of higher education selected by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) to participate in a three-year project, Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence: Campus-Based Strategies for Student Success. The project’s aim is to advance equity and improve the quality of college learning for all students.

This article highlights key aspects of Morgan’s data-driven action plan for student success and inclusive excellence that can be replicated by other institutions. In accordance with guidelines from AAC&U, Morgan’s project goals are to: (1) increase student access to and participation in high-impact practices (HIPs); (2) increase completion, retention, and graduation rates for low-income, first-generation, adult, and/or minority students; (3) increase achievement of learning outcomes for underserved students using direct assessment measures, including AAC&U’s VALUE rubrics; and (4) increase student awareness and understanding of the value of guided learning pathways that incorporate HIPs and prepare students for the workforce and engaged citizenship.

Morgan’s data-driven framework included: (1) the use of disaggregated data on enrollment, retention, graduation, and course success rates by race, gender, and type of students to identify and close gaps in equity; (2) increased participation in professional development opportunities on student success and inclusive excellence by graduate students, staff, faculty, and administrators; (3) construction and administration of a HIPs survey for all members of the faculty; and (4) redesigned general education courses to increase access to and participation in HIPs and equity-minded strategies. The data leadership team, action plans with measurable goals, assessment system, and professional development were key elements of Morgan’s framework for improving student success and inclusive excellence. The leadership team also initiated dialogues to achieve understanding of the project, obtained input from all interested constituents, publicized successful activities, shared challenges, and sought feedback from key stakeholders.

Action Plans

Morgan’s data-driven action plans for student success and inclusive excellence contain goals, measurable objectives, assessment methods, communication aims, and equity-minded strategies for achieving each goal of the project. An action plan was developed for each of the four goals listed in the second paragraph of the introductory section. Prior to the development of action plans, the team collected and reviewed data on student demographics; course data on the general education program (e.g., completion and attrition rates, course grades, student evaluations); institutional data (e.g., retention rates, graduation rates, the National Survey of Student Engagement); and annual reports related to diversity and inclusive excellence.

The team disaggregated student data by race and ethnicity and reviewed it for unequal student outcomes. When observed, the team: (1) identified the name of the focal group experiencing the gap (e.g., retention rates of African American female students); (2) described the reasons for the gap; (3) set a measurable goal to close the gap; (4) identified the additional number of students needed to close the gap; and (5) identified the year when the goal will be met. Additional data on high-impact practices (HIPs) and VALUE rubric use were collected through surveys and syllabi analyses. To ensure more access to HIPs and equity-minded strategies, a total of twelve general education courses were redesigned with the Supplemental Instruction (SI) model—taking a traditional course and using technology and community-based activities to engage students in the educative process—in summer 2016. Through SI, technology, and workshops on HIPs, the learning environment was redesigned to increase students’ ability to think critically, synthesize ideas, and formulate questions about course content and materials. Students of all academic and learning abilities and levels have benefitted from the SI model of instruction.

Assessment System

Project goals, assessment measures, data management and dissemination strategies, and team processes are all aspects of the assessment system. In December 2016, the project team established measurable objectives, performance targets, and direct/indirect measures for tracking changes for each goal from the first year through the end of the project. The project team used monthly meetings and reports to analyze, improve, and disseminate data on different aspects of the assessment system. In addition, Blackboard, Starfish, Degree Works, the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS), and Excel spreadsheets are examples of technology used to support data collection and analyses. These data were used to inform decisions and continue to improve the project.

Lessons Learned and Professional Development

The project’s leadership team identified several success factors: the role of leadership, campus-wide partnerships, the alignment of institutional goals, and professional development. Support of project initiatives by the provost, deans, chairs, and the leadership team from AAC&U made it possible to acquire buy-in from members of the faculty, students, and administrators. Support of administrators also made it easy to align the project’s goals with those of the university. Several offices on campus—assessment, institutional research, enrollment management, student success and retention, and career development—all collaborated and shared information on how elements of their strategic plans aligned with initiatives of this project. Based on survey results in which over 60 percent of the faculty reported that they needed more knowledge of HIPs and VALUE rubrics, the project team held two professional development workshops on HIPs to support faculty knowledge of best practices. The team developed a sustainability plan and in November 2016 acquired a grant on career development and learning pathways to continuously support the action plans on student success and inclusive excellence, as well as faculty professional development, at the end of this project.

Solomon Alao, Assistant Vice President for Outcome Assessment; Cheryl Rollins, Director of the Office of Institutional Research; Lisa D. Brown, Associate Professor and Associate Chair of Biology; and  Henrietta L. Wright, Lecturer of Teacher Education and Professional Development, all of Morgan State University

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