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How Data Drives Student Success


Students at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, NY.Students at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, NY.The Institute of Higher Education Policy (IHEP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to access and success for students in postsecondary institutions, has released studies of two Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) that are leading the way in student success: four-year public University of North Texas (UNT) and two-year public LaGuardia Community College in New York City.

“We at IHEP are very focused on ensuring that higher education provides value to students, particularly students from low-income backgrounds and students of color, to ensure they’re receiving a real return on investment as a result of strong completion outcomes and strong workforce outcomes and connections between higher education and the workforce,” said Mamie Voight, president and CEO of IHEP.

IHEP identified these two institutions by using the Equitable Value Explorer, a free, publicly accessible site that analyzes data from colleges and universities across the country. UNT and LaGuardia’s student centered, data-driven approaches are helping their students succeed in the classroom and beyond, offering considerable returns on their educational investment.

Kenneth Adams, president of LaGuardia Community College.Kenneth Adams, president of LaGuardia Community College.

Students who attend these institutions earn more than the median wage of high school graduates, plus enough to recoup their investment in college. But that’s just the minimum goal. IHEP also examined whether or not a student’s average earnings ten years after enrollment met or surpassed median wage earnings in their state. Students who leave both campuses tend to have post-college earnings that meet or exceed the median earnings for their degree level in their state.

“We are so encouraged by this recognition [from IHEP],” said LaGuardia President Kenneth Adams. “And we recognize we have a lot of work to do still, but it’s encouraging to know we’re moving in the right direction. We have to ensure students are well prepared for jobs related to their field [of study] that pay a family-sustaining wage in New York City.”

That is no easy feat, Adams acknowledged, especially as post-pandemic inflation and rent has skyrocketed across the city's five boroughs. LaGuardia is an MSI twice over — it meets the minimum demographic thresholds to qualify as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and an Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution (AANAPISI). Forty-four percent of undergraduate enrollment is Latinx, and 20% is Asian American. Students at LaGuardia represent over 130 countries, and many students come to the school to take advantage of their English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, the largest in the city. ESOL is housed in the school’s Adult Continuing Education (ACE) division.

IHEP recognized LaGuardia’s unique approach to its ACE students, and its deliberate, un-siloed course alignment that offers ACE students course credit toward a credential or degree.

“When students are completing their workforce training programs, building trades, as they work on resumes and get ready for job interviews, the career services team in the ACE division encourages them to think about getting a degree, and the importance of a degree,” said Adams. “In many of our ACE programs, we grant academic credit. Our program directors and faculty chairs work closely to match them to existing courses.”

As an example, community healthcare training, a workforce training program for entry-level frontline workers, earns its students nine credits toward a public health degree at LaGuardia.

“Whether a student wants academic credit or not, we’re building credit into the workforce training program. They can bank and save that for the future,” said Adams, meaning that students can come back at anytime after receiving training and use those credits to get a head start on their degree.

Voight said this is thanks to LaGuardia’s clever use of data to identify strong candidates. About 10% of LaGuardia’s most recent graduating class started in the ACE programs.

Data is critical for UNT’s student success as well, said Voight.

“UNT went through an entire process of strengthening their data infrastructure and building data literacy across their campus, so the right people have access to the right data to inform their decision making,” said Voight.

Mamie Voight, president and CEO of IHEP.Mamie Voight, president and CEO of IHEP.UNT is one of the most affordable four-year institutions in the state of Texas, and, with a 27% Latinx student population, it qualifies as an HSI. Almost a decade ago, its president, Dr. Neal J. Smatresk, and his leadership realized that students, faculty, and staff would benefit from a more robust and insightful data set that anyone could use or access at any time.

It took years to develop this kind of software, reaching out to faculty and staff to ask their needs and offer training to understand how to use data sets. The current iteration of the program, Insights 2.0, offers 28 data dashboards with insights on enrollment, grades, financial aid, retention, completion, and student demographics.

Dr. John Quintanilla, dean of the College of Science at UNT, uses Insights to better understand how students are faring in his class and to identify trends. It helped him see which labs had the highest rates of DFWI — drop, fail, withdraw, or incomplete. Using this knowledge, he made adjustments to the lab’s exams and their preparation. DFWI rates have since declined by 20%.

While IHEP recommends that both institutions continue their efforts to increase completion numbers and build more connections with the workforce to ensure students have higher earning potential, Voight said other institutions should take note of how these MSIs are centering their students' needs and using data to propel that mission.

“I think there’s a real hunger amongst institutions to use data, and a strong recognition of how powerful data can be in informing everyday decisions,” said Voight. “Institutions like LaGuardia and UNT have demonstrated, with a focus on student success and with the benefits of data and evidence, institutions can improve the outcomes of their students in ways that enhance learning, completion, and post-completion outcomes.” 

Liann Herder can be reached at [email protected].

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