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UCI Launches 2-Year Study on Value of College Education

scale with coins on one side, books and graduation cap on the other

The University of California, Irvine has begun tracking, surveying and analyzing of a group of undergraduate students to better understand their experiences inside and outside the college. Along the way, the researchers involved in the two-year project will be creating tools that other institutions may use to assess the student experiences at their own campuses.

The "Next Generation Undergraduate Success Measurement Project," being run by the School of Education, has three research threads:

  • Using data on students' social activities, housing, course enrollment, course performance and interactions with campus services and an advising software platform to gain a "holistic perspective" on student pathways through college;
  • Analyzing students' behavior in Canvas, one of the university's learning management systems, to understand how often and to what extent students participate in discussions, when they are accessing and using course materials and when they are completing assignments; and
  • Assessing whether a student's ability to "to think in rigorous, critical ways" is influenced by their college attendance.

Each research project is being led by UCI faculty members and will also involve some 25 fellow researchers from more than a dozen other U.S. universities. The program will track a random sample of 500 UCI freshmen, 50 freshman honor students, 250 junior transfer students and 250 continuing juniors.

"As educators, we have a responsibility to be more intentional about how we ensure student achievement," said Richard Arum, dean of the UCI School of Education and principal investigator, in a brochure about the project. "It's time to use the tremendous amount of data at our disposal to understand what is happening on college campuses, and improve student experiences and outcomes. This study sets out to do just that."

Among the data sources to be used in the various studies: transcripts, online classroom behavior, living situations and daily and weekly diary entries.

"With this data, we can begin to understand the diversity of peers, and the diversity of academic trajectories, and look at student experience in abstract ways," added Assistant Professor Rachel Baker. "It will lead us to understand how schools can better understand their students, and allow us to give actionable advice to schools on ways to help students graduate."

The project is being funded by a $1.1 million grant from the Mellon Foundation.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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