Universal Mentors Association

Strategies to improve student degree attainment


Since 2018, The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA)  has created nearly two dozen university-wide initiatives to help reach its strategic destination of becoming a model for student success. This includes the university’s Enabling Clear Pathways to Degree Completion Tactical Team, which was introduced in 2020 to promote a more centralized and standardized core curriculum to improve student degree progression and completion.

It also includes UTSA’s ’s Equitable Student Pathways (ESP) project, which is part of a larger, University of Texas System-wide student success initiative—Data Agency, Action, and Insight: Redesigning Student Pathways to Ensure Equity.

Beginning in January 2022, UTSA’s ESP team utilized the university’s extensive data dashboards to analyze student enrollment and demographic data from the last decade during phase one of the project. They examined how factors including race, ethnicity, gender, first-generation status and Pell grant eligibility impacted persistence, timely graduation and academic performance.

From this analysis, the team identified three majors—civil engineering, construction science and management, and environmental science—as having significantly lower rates of persistence and degrees awarded to historically underrepresented and minority (URM) students.

Using these three academic programs as a pilot, the UTSA team embarked on a multi-part strategy to address the equity gaps. The group built an institutional dashboard that reveals real-time student course enrollment, persistence and graduation data down to individual programs within the three majors.

The ESP team designed several strategies to improve student degree attainment, including:

  • Beginning a multi-year core curriculum refresh in fall 2022 to better link core classes to students’ major coursework and career-readiness;
  • Building and implementing an annual campus climate survey to capture student feedback at critical milestones throughout their degree program; and
  • Developing a monitoring system to identify and address gaps in persistence and graduation rates among URM students across academic programs.

The first phase of UTSA’s ESP project was led by a cross-campus team that incorporated faculty and administrators from the Student Success and Academic Innovation divisions within UTSA Academic Affairs.

For phase two, the ESP team is shifting its focus to the Carlos Alvarez College of Business—which serves more than 6,000 undergraduate students—due to its high transfer and pre-major student populations. Using knowledge gained from phase one, they will target courses within the finance, accounting, and cyber and information systems degree programs. Working with Academic Innovation’s Office of Teaching, Learning and Digital Transformation, the team will modify and restructure the targeted courses to help alleviate existing gaps in persistence and degree attainment in those classes.

The primary goal of phase two, which is expected to conclude in July 2023, is to create a formalized, scalable system that will identify and decrease equity disparities within any degree program at UTSA.

In addition to analyzing real-time and historic information from UTSA’s data dashboards, the ESP team also used Civitas Learning, a tool that uses predictive analytics to detect at-risk students, or those who are stagnant in a general studies program and not transitioning into major-specific coursework. This enabled the team to proactively identify students needing extra support and to provide them with targeted programs and services to help them progress through their studies.

In a related university initiative Curricular Analytics was used to assist in the revision of core classes and undergraduate degree programs as part of UTSA’s partnership with the Association for Undergraduate Education at Research Universities. This open access software gives insight into how overall curriculum design—such as the structure and sequence of courses in a degree program—affects student outcomes.

Furthermore, the Curricular Analytics software can recommend data-informed curriculum improvements as well as personalized degree plans for different students.

⇒ Explore UTSA’s institutional data dashboard
⇒ Discover how Curricular Analytics can help improve degree programs

Over the last decade, UTSA has made tremendous strides improving key student success outcomes, including graduation rates and first-year student retention, by creating a data-informed ecosystem of student support across the institution. For example, Roadrunners now complete their degree in 4.3 years on average, compared to 5.4 years a decade ago. First-year student retention also improved to 80%, up from 64% in 2012.

UTSA’s Equitable Student Pathways (ESP) project is made possible by Lumina Foundation


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