Skip to main content

New initiatives advance ASU's efforts to enhance student success

October 12, 2011

eAdvisor to be expand to Maricopa County Community College District, Central Arizona College

“Student-centered” and “customized education” are two terms that can be applied to several initiatives that are expected to result in substantial increases in student success at Arizona State University. These efforts consist of an online student advising system, innovative programs in math and English, and shorter course units.  

The programs build on a decade-long effort to improve student academic performance. From 2000 to 2010 (the most recent year for which data is available) ASU’s freshmen retention improved from 73 percent to 84 percent and the six-year graduation rate from 47.2 percent to 58.7 percent. Considering that ASU’s student enrollment has been in the 70,000 range for several years, these percentages equate to the additional academic success of many thousands of students.

The online advising system, called eAdvisor at ASU, was developed by Elizabeth D. Capaldi, executive vice president and provost at ASU, in 1996 when she was at the University of Florida, where it resulted in a 20 percent increase in the graduation rate.  

While it still is too soon to measure the six-year graduation rate impact of eAdvisor at ASU, where it has been employed only since 2007, it already has resulted in an 8 percent improvement in the student retention rate. With a first-year class of approximately 9,000 students, that percentage equates to an additional 720 students a year advancing from freshman to sophomore year who otherwise might have dropped out.

“eAdvisor is premised on the idea that students can succeed if they are in the right major,” Capaldi said. “ASU has 250 majors, which can be bewildering to administrators as well as students. The system also ensures students are taking the correct classes in the correct order to obtain their degree on time. When we started e-Advisor, only 22 percent of our students were on the correct course path for their majors. Now 95 percent are.”

eAdvisor allows students to search potential majors by entering general terms such as “I like working with people,” “I am good with computers” or “I want to put my art talent to use.” While students still meet with human advisors, the online system produces a list of appropriate majors and maps out the courses needed to complete each degree. The critical courses diagnostic of success in a major are added early in the sequence, so students can discover earlier if they are in a major not suited for them.

“An example of a diagnostic course is statistics for a psychology major,” Capaldi said. “You must be good at statistics to have a career in psychology, and in the past a student might put off taking statistics ultimately to find out that he or she can’t do statistics and therefore, can’t major in psychology.”

A student who did poorly in a diagnostic course can still meet with an advisor and decide to retake the course, or could switch majors to a program where the troublesome course is not required. The intention is to prevent students from investing two or three years in a major, then having to switch majors late in their academic career, adding additional years of coursework or prompting them to give up and drop out.

eAdvisor also monitors progress toward degree completion by informing students when they are off track. If a student is considering changing majors, eAdvisor will enumerate how courses already taken fit into the new major and what additional courses may be needed to complete the new major.

With a clear course roadmap for each student, eAdvisor also enables university administrators to ensure that the proper number of seats is available in each course.

Every year about 8,000 to 9,000 students transfer to ASU, most coming from the state’s 10 community districts and, in particular, the Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD). Some eAdvisor functions will be extended to MCCCD and Central Arizona College (CAC) to enable students in two-year programs to map out the courses they need to get a four-year degree at ASU. This requires entering all the academic records of students at MCCCD and CAC into the eAdvisor database, and that is being accomplished with a $1-million grant from the Kresge Foundation.

ASU also is in discussion with Mesa Public Schools to bring some of the eAdvisor tools to the high school level, all in an effort to improve the pipeline from secondary school through community college to a four-year college degree.

Technology also is helping many ASU students to succeed in a problem area at schools at every level: math.

It has been thought that a student either can or cannot do math, but ASU uses an interactive computerized system that analyzes specific problems, such as the way a golf swing can be broken down into its component parts.  A student might have problems mastering functions or probability, and once the problem is diagnosed, the student, under the supervision of an instructor, can work interactively at their own pace to correct the deficiency.  

Because the system is individualized, advanced students can work days and even weeks ahead.

“Similar to the math program, our English program is student-centered and not one size fits all," said Capaldi. “All ASU freshmen are placed in first-year writing courses based on standardized test scores. However, students in redesigned sections of freshman writing – Writers Studio – also have the opportunity to work at individualized rates, finishing the course when they have demonstrated mastery of nationally developed learning outcomes.

“The purpose of the placement testing is to ensure students are placed in the classes appropriate for their level of preparation and to make sure they acquire the skills they need to succeed from the beginning.”

Additionally, a “calendar change” was introduced as a response to students voluntarily choosing seven-and-a-half week classes when available. During the normal fall and spring 15-week academic terms, students now can choose to take seven-and-a-half week courses. Many students, particularly those who are working, prefer to concentrate on one or two courses and successfully finish them before moving on to additional courses.  

And there is another advantage as well. Students can take six courses in two seven-and-a-half week modules at the same price of taking five courses in one 15-week module, allowing them to graduate faster and at a lower tuition cost.