Postsecondary Trending Now: Early Days for iPASS Research

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Postsecondary Trending Now

iPASS, the acronym for Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success, is a term only now gaining currency across the landscape of higher education reform. Accordingly, research into the efficacy of this comprehensive approach to improving advising by infusing technology is in its early days. So the release of a literature survey by the evaluation partner in iPASS work, the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College, Columbia University, is a welcome development for those who are involved in implementing iPASS programs at institutions.

It will also be of interest to those who are curious about whether these interventions are delivering on their promise to improve outcomes for students. The CCRC’s report, Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success (iPASS): State of the Literature, examines some 60 papers released since 2010 that cover aspects of iPASS work.

The study begins with a high-level summary of the iPASS landscape: 42 institutions have received funding either directly from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, or more recently, via a set of 2015 grants from EDUCAUSE that were underwritten by the Foundation, to implement iPASS approaches. Grantee universities and colleges are charged with implementing three student-facing functions: education planning, counseling and coaching, and targeting risk and intervention.

Simultaneously, some state systems are also launching iPASS technologies at scale. The paper includes Tyton Partners’ 2014 estimate that at least 120 companies have launched iPASS technology products. With so much activity and investment under way, the time seems right to look at initial outcomes, to the extent possible.

Authors Jeffrey Fletcher, Markeisha Grant, Marisol Ramos, and Melinda Mechur Karp divide the reports and studies that they identified and analyzed into four categories:

  • documents that describe processes and challenges of iPASS implementation,
  • output reports that examine usage data for the purpose of understanding iPASS implementation,
  • correlational studies that examine associations between different functionalities of iPASS tools and student outcomes, and
  • rigorous outcomes studies (just four of the 60 studies fall in this category).

The authors conclude that, while few items in the “rigorous outcomes studies” category have been released as yet, those few include some intriguing indications of iPASS making a positive difference. That is, some of the components that comprise iPASS do indeed appear to be having positive effects on student persistence toward degree completion. For higher education institutions embarking on iPASS reform, the paper includes guidance about how to shape applicable research into effectiveness.

One key takeaway: in order to show that their iPASS intervention does indeed have a positive effect on student outcomes, institutions need to create a logic model that shows how the tools and interventions are intended to influence student outcomes, and then need to build in measures for each of these as the intervention is implemented. This working paper is essential reading for institutional research officers at campuses that are considering embarking on an iPASS program, as well as those individuals who are looking toward the future of advising and student success.

Nancy Millichap is a program officer with the EDUCAUSE initiative Next Generation Learning Challenges, which makes grants aimed at dramatically increasing college readiness and completion through applied technology.