CSU-based association receives nearly $2M for ‘Curricular Analytics’ project on student success

UERU logo

The Association for Undergraduate Education at Research Universities, an association hosted at Colorado State University formerly known as the Reinvention Collaborative, is receiving its largest philanthropic grant in the organization’s 20-year history: $1,997,600 from Ascendium Education Group.

The grant will support an innovative Curricular Analytics Project to validate the relationship between curricular complexity and student success. Based on the findings of UERU’s research, the outcomes will be used to guide institutional change that will benefit undergraduate students for greater academic success.

UERU was formed in 2000 to implement the recommendations of the 1998 report Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for America’s Research Universities. UERU is funded by member dues and in-kind investment from its host institution, Colorado State University. UERU also has enjoyed support from the National Science Foundation and more recently from the Sloan Foundation, Raikes Foundation, and Teagle Foundation.

Greg Heileman
Greg Heileman discusses Curricular Analytics at an UERU meeting at CSU in 2019.

Three-year project

The investment by Ascendium Education Group is, however, UERU’s largest gift, and it is also the first aimed in support of research and change management, funding a three-year project involving experts in these areas and the participation of 30 U.S. research universities.

“Ascendium’s generous and strategic investment in UERU will strengthen the open-source Curricular Analytics Toolkit for all users, and will especially aid UERU’s Curricular Analytics Project institutions as their faculty analyze curricular complexity with the goal of identifying areas where curricular reform would increase student success,” said principal investigator Steve Dandaneau, UERU executive director and associate provost at Colorado State University. “Equity will not be achieved unless we surface entrenched or institutionalized forms of discrimination, and the Curricular Analytics Toolkit is designed to do just that.”

Greg Heileman, vice provost for undergraduate education at the University of Arizona, and Chaouki Abdallah, executive vice president for research at the Georgia Institute of Technology, pioneered the use of curricular analytics to inform student success efforts in higher education. Some of the metrics and capabilities they have worked with collaborators to create are available at Curricular Analytics.org. Their work has been supported by UERU as well as the Association for Public and Land-Grant Universities Powered by Publics Initiative, John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education, American Council on Education, and other organizations, all of which recognize that Curricular Analytics data analysis and visualization features foster awareness concerning the relationship between, say, long chains of required courses or unnecessary prerequisites, and successful student progress and degree completion.

Degree map

A degree map for computer engineering

Examining structural inequities

Heileman, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, believes that “by working with the schools in the UERU network, a much better understanding of how the complexity of curricula impacts the ability of students to complete them will be gained. Furthermore, the study design will allow us to determine the extent to which structural inequities are built into the curricula we offer, as well as how we can mitigate the negative impact of these inequities.”

“Curricular Analytics elevates our discussions of teaching and learning at research universities to the level of research-based institutional reforms,” adds Colin Potts, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at Missouri University of Science & Technology, and UERU president and chair of the Board. “In addition to teaching courses well, we need to offer coherent curricula that students can navigate and complete. By using computational techniques in the service of student learning, we’re doing exactly what UERU’s Boyer 2040 Commission is promoting. It’s very exciting.”

The three-year UERU project will begin this fall by bringing research and change management experts together with leaders at 30 partner research universities, selected based on the percentage of PELL-grant-recipient undergraduate students enrolled as well as the commitment of each to achieving equitable student success. The group will pursue research and institutional change simultaneously, in hope of making use of newly generated information to foster, where needed, timely reforms.

An emerging field

The Chronicle of Higher Education has noted that Curricular Analytics is of growing interest nationally. The toolkit is being used, for example, by APLU’s Powered by Publics Western Land-Grant and Big Ten Cluster institutions — thanks in part to impetus from the University of Wyoming, leadership provided by Colorado State University, and competitive APLU funding. Curricular Analytics was also highlighted in the Gardner Institute’s recent “Socially Just Design in Postsecondary Education” webinar series. Since the toolkit is open-source, any institution or faculty may avail themselves of its benefits.

For more information, contact Dandaneau (Steven.Dandaneau@colostate.edu).