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ASU 4-year graduation rate up 20 points since 2002

row of students during ASU undergraduate commencement ceremony

ASU's four-year graduation rate has increased nearly 20 percentage points since 2002.
Photo by: Andy DeLisle

January 26, 2015

Tatiana Jenkins first encountered eAdvisor, one of Arizona State University’s tools to help students succeed, before she even applied to college.

She went online when she was still in high school to discover what she could study that would couple her interest in public service with her curiosity about international relations.

“I didn’t know which major would be more tailored to what I specifically liked,” Jenkins, now a junior political science major, said. “So I got to explore the different majors, the different certificates.”

Three years into her ASU career, Jenkins is now something of an eAdvisor super-user. She utilizes the tool, which prescribes a pathway to graduate in all of ASU’s 370 undergraduate majors, to guide her own education, and she works to assist younger students in staying the course as well.

She counts herself as someone who has benefited from the eAdvisor system.

“It puts more responsibility on me, but it also gives me more tools so I’m not just filling my classes up with dance credits or physical education credits that have nothing to do with my major,” she said. “I’m filling it up with things that will help me graduate in four years and not be off track.”

Staying on track is key to a student’s success. The university’s four-year graduation rate has increased nearly 20 percentage points since 2002, with the largest increase starting in 2007, after eAdvisor was launched.

That dramatic improvement is the result of ASU’s deep investment in integrating technology like eAdvisor into the learning experience, and experimenting with new ways to keep students on the path toward earning a degree.

“ASU is committed not only to being accessible to students, but we are committed to their success once they get here,” said ASU Provost Robert E. Page Jr. “The innovation and student-centric education that is happening at ASU will help to improve higher education throughout the country.”

eAdvisor isn’t the only change the university has made to help students succeed.

ASU instituted a first-year seminar course called ASU 101. Students learn time-management and academic integrity, but are also introduced to the values of the university, including its focus on sustainability and entrepreneurship. ASU 101 teaches all entering freshman best practices to be academically successful in college.

The university also created residential communities in which students in individual schools live together. Administrators say this allows college staff, some of whom live in the halls themselves, to know where their students are, and help keep them on target if their grades start to slip.

Deans at individual schools and colleges were also asked to become more responsible for their students’ academic outcomes.

“The deans were shown their numbers and given targets,” said Frederick Corey, vice provost for undergraduate education. “Each one had to submit a report saying exactly what they were going to do to improve retention.”

Each of these programs helped to increase academic success and contributed to the improvement in graduation rates.

“We feel an obligation for our undergraduate students,” Corey said. “We’ve admitted those students, and we have an obligation to help them succeed.”

Even with the measurable success, ASU continues to do more to learn how to improve student outcomes.

In the fall 2014 semester, Art Blakemore, senior vice provost, led a pilot program called Learn-Explore-Advance-Design (LEAD) to test an interdisciplinary approach to teaching three subject areas: communication; critical reading and writing; and academic success. One hundred students learned in a “flipped classroom,” where lectures and presentations were placed online, and in-class time was spent collaborating on projects related to the material. They also got more individualized attention from faculty.

The students in LEAD were ones the university thought could benefit from a more hands-on approach during their first semester in college. Similar students who were not in the LEAD program tend to advance to the second semester of freshman year at a rate of roughly 85 percent. Students in the LEAD program advanced at a rate of 97 percent.

“Now the question is, can we scale it?” Corey said, referring to a critical question at a university the size of ASU: How will something like the LEAD program work when it is applied to thousands of students instead of just a fraction of that?

It is that kind of experimenting that has led to the success of programs like eAdvisor, which not only describes courses and majors, but allows students to see exactly what courses they need to take, what semester they need to take them in and what grades they need to get to stay in the major.

For Jenkins, the political science junior, that kind of innovation brings a school the size of ASU within reach.

“I’m not overwhelmed with all the information…” she said. “It’s just having all the options condensed for you, and then you can fit that into how you learn and how you want to graduate.”