Mellon Foundation-funded project will identify ways to improve student experiences, outcomes

UCI was named by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as the national pilot site for an interdisciplinary team of researchers led by the School of Education to study approaches that will increase understanding of what makes a liberal arts education so valuable.

These scholars will direct the development and implementation of a state-of-the-art measurement project to explore how data from learning management systems and other sources can be combined with institutional records to promote models of undergraduate student success.

“We are honored that the Mellon Foundation has chosen UCI to create and manage this important new tool,” said Chancellor Howard Gillman. “Our School of Education is one of the nation’s leaders in the science of education, and this innovative project has tremendous potential to impact educational outcomes and student achievement.”

Mariët Westermann, former executive vice president for programs and research at the Mellon Foundation, noted: “Colleges and universities face growing pressure to prove their value. In a society hungry for data and evidence, simply claiming the value of liberal arts no longer suffices. Developing thoughtful and robust models and measures of the economic, social and personal outcomes of a liberal arts education will greatly help all of us to better understand the worth of such an education and communicate that value to academic decision-makers and the public.”

Students at commencement

Supported by a $1.115 million grant from the Mellon Foundation, UCI’s three-year Next-Generation Undergraduate Success Measurement Project will collect, quantify and analyze data on a random sample of 1,050 UCI students: 500 incoming freshmen, 250 incoming junior transfers, 250 continuing juniors and 50 freshmen in the Campuswide Honors Program.

Traditional institutional information on course progression, credit accumulation and grades, as well as student survey responses on educational experiences and satisfaction, will be supplemented with data from campus learning management systems and new experiential sampling methods, such as contacting participants via their smartphones at random times of the week to monitor their academic and extracurricular activities.

“Technology presents researchers and stakeholders with new opportunities to capture more fully experiences and pathways to enhance institutional performance and undergraduate outcomes and to advance educational science,” said principal investigator Richard Arum, dean of the UCI School of Education. “We are committed to a data-driven continuous improvement model that tracks performance, innovates on curriculum and iterates instructional design. As educators, we have a responsibility to be more intentional about how we ensure student achievement.”

The Next-Generation Undergraduate Success Measurement Project grew out of the Mellon Foundation’s Value of the Liberal Arts initiative, which identified the need for deeper, more holistic and authentic quantification of educational experiences and outcomes. The protocols and measures created by UCI will be used for “College and Beyond II,” a Mellon Foundation-funded study organized and housed by the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research at the University of Michigan.

“UCI is at the forefront of educational science and has the institutional capacity to lead this project,” said co-principal investigator Michael Dennin, dean of the Division of Undergraduate Education and vice provost for teaching and learning. “Our Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation has organized an integrated, student-level dataset and established processes to ensure easy access by researchers to expedite improvement efforts.”