Reflections on iPASS: Where We've Been & Where We're Going

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2016 was filled with opportunities for transformation for advising, involvement from faculty, and increased support for students. We wanted to take some time to reflect on our progress at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and review our vision for the future. During our journey on the Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success (iPASS) grant, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we have achieved tremendous successes and uncovered great opportunities. From the initial planning stages to going full steam on implementation, we’ve noticed the positive impact that iPASS-related changes have made in our university culture. It wouldn’t have been possible without deliberate efforts to include various stakeholder groups, which allowed us to secure valuable feedback and support along the way.

Advising Team Prepares for Change

Back in spring 2016, UTSA began its Education Advisory Board’s Student Success Collaborative (EAB/SSC) kickoff. In recognition of the fact that communication and involvement of end-users is a critical component of buy-in and adoption, several different measures were taken to help with anticipated changes. Change can be difficult with digital disruption; however, it’s often necessary in order to make progress.

Starting with the initial IPAS grant, the UTSA advising culture has changed dramatically over the past few years. This new culture has led to a greater amount of initial EAB/SSC training for advisors. There is now a greater message and culture that welcomes change for improvement and a continuous message that technology-driven advising tools provide benefits not only to advisors, but students as well. Helping our advisors to be more efficient in the administrative process has resulted in stronger relationships built during advising sessions.

To garner excitement about the upcoming transition to EAB/SSC from the previous advising system, initial training was held early in the semester. Training continued throughout the spring and summer to ensure that advisors were comfortable with and knowledgeable about how to use the advising tool to its fullest capacity. Also during this time, UTSA’s EAB/SSC leadership team selected advising staff members to pilot and test the tool prior to its release. To ensure the transition went smoothly and to offer additional support as the semester continued, more advising committees were added to test. In late summer, EAB/SSC Campus went live to advisors.

Meanwhile, the UTSA iPASS program was recognized for its innovation and support of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s (THECB) 60x30 TX—a plan that aims to increase graduation rates and have 60% of Texans ages 24-34 obtain a college credential by 2030. The transition from previous advising tools to a more comprehensive tool led to positive impact, and the tool will continue to grow as more components are added over the next year.

UTSA Faculty Committee Aids Student Success

Continuing its unwavering commitment to ensuring student success, the UTSA Office of Information Technology (OIT) established an invitation-only Faculty Advisory Committee in spring 2016. The committee, which serves as an integral liaison between UTSA faculty and OIT, is comprised of distinguished faculty members who have been appointed by their department chairs. The committee serves as a forum for members to offer critical feedback regarding technology resources that affect student achievement at UTSA. The committee meets on a quarterly basis throughout the academic year to discuss existing and upcoming technology implementations at UTSA that help to enhance students’ academic experiences as well as to offer recommendations of how OIT can further expand its reach to students.

In an effort to garner more diverse feedback on the iPASS grant, OIT expanded the scope of this committee incorporating a broader faculty perspective. Committee members are informed of upcoming iPASS projects at UTSA, such as the EAB/SSC platform, which was rolled out to advisors in fall 2016. These resources are accessible not only to students and advisors, but also to faculty who, undoubtedly, also play a pivotal role in fostering student success.

The OIT Faculty Advisory Committee, therefore, remains a valuable resource through its contributions to OIT’s and UTSA’s goals of increasing student retention and ultimately institutional graduation rates.

Targeting Students to Increase Buy-In for DegreeWorks

One of the focuses of our work in 2016 involved expanding communication to students. Like many institutions, UTSA consistently seeks to implement the most beneficial products for our students. A significant amount of resources are committed to the technology implementation process, and while we rejoice when we launch a new product or service, in reality this is just the beginning of our work.

Implementation has several components, and we believe communication for adoption is the most essential. There are several students serving on our iPASS committee who helped us engage from a student perspective as we crafted our marketing plans. We focused on two tools: DegreeWorks and the UTSA Mobile App. To increase student usage, DegreeWorks was relaunched in the fall of 2016.

Also during the fall semester, DegreeWorks information sessions were held and integrated into student-focused events such as the Student Innovation Coalition, a forum to gather student feedback on technology at the university. Marketing around campus was increased through elevator posters, banners, digital boards, and videos on the student information portal. OIT Customer Relations and Communications staff also hosted biweekly information tables to discuss DegreeWorks with students. Plus, there was swag: students who either met with an advisor and locked in their degree plans or actively used the product were provided a free DegreeWorks shirt.

Our Vision for 2017

In this new year, we have plans to add products and services that will aid in retaining and helping students to stay on track toward graduation, as well as continue to market these products and services to students. This will begin with the launch of EAB/SSC Campus student tools. Scheduling appointments with an advisor can seem cumbersome to some students; however, we believe that providing them with access to a portal to view available advising appointments and schedule appointments at their convenience will empower them to be more proactive.

Marketing for EAB/SSC Campus and UTSA’s branding of the platform will begin in the spring. Increasing awareness and understanding of this product and encouraging students to ask questions and meet with their advisors will be a key goal for 2017. In 2016, we promoted the UTSA Mobile App, a component which will be essential as we integrate DegreeWorks and EAB/SSC Campus GUIDE this year. The UTSA Mobile App is very popular with students and we’ve seen a steady increase in downloads and app activity. We anticipate that students will be excited to see more tools to help them on their academic journey toward their ultimate goal: graduation.

We’re excited to enter 2017 and continue to grow, transform, and strengthen the student success culture at UTSA—and we look forward to sharing lessons learned and best practices with others in the higher education community.

Rosalind Ong De Trevino, Project Coordinator, Office of Information Technology

Nicole Duff, Communications Specialist, Office of Information Technology