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College and university leadership teams are exploring new ways to decrease costs while delivering high-quality education to an expanding and ever more diverse student body. They recognize that achieving these goals will potentially require a range of investments in student success.

How can institutions figure out the cost of each of those investments and how to define success? What expectations should be set and communicated, and how might exit strategies be developed? Finally, how might we define and capture the return on investment (ROI) — both to students and to the institution — from these initiatives?

Case study: Colorado State University

CSU provides a model of sustainable innovation in support of student success, eliminating graduation rate gaps based on race while generating $30 million in net revenue from improved student performance.

Colorado State University (CSU) is a Research-1 Land Grant University with an expressed commitment to meeting the educational needs of today’s students. CSU enrolled 23,000 undergraduates in fall 2016: one of every four students is first-generation in college; one in four is a member of a race/ethnic minority group, and one in five receives a Pell grant. 

In 2005, the university president and provost challenged the university to substantially increase undergraduate student success. In response to the 2005 challenge, the university developed the Plan for Excellence: Enhancing Undergraduate Education and Student Success, which had two goals:

Goal 1: Achieve a six-year graduation rate of 70% (from the base of 63.7%).

Goal 2: Eliminate the graduation rate gap between minority students and non-minority students, accounting for differences in prior preparation. 

CSU implemented an array of student success initiatives (SSI) over the next 12 years. Throughout the implementation of these success metrics, they monitored momentum points to evaluate whether they were contributing to student success and, if not, whether they should be modified or abandoned.

The implementation of the entire array of SSI initiatives was completed in June 2017. Available evidence suggests that CSU met Goal 1 five years early and Goal 2 three years early. In addition to tracking student success under its SSI metrics, CSU has also carefully tracked initiative investment and return on that investment from net tuition and fees (less initiative cost). That return is estimated at $30 million dollars since the Plan was launched in 2007−08. 

Although the initial Plan initiatives were completed in 2017, CSU has continued to build on its success, setting new 4- and 6-year graduation rate goals, and focusing on eliminating graduation gaps entirely. In all, CSU has demonstrated the application of an ROI lens in creating sustainable innovation in support of student success.


Student Success Initiatives

Article — How Ohio Community Colleges Use ROI to Make the Most of Student Success
Article — Numbers that Count: Measuring the ROI of Student Success Initiatives
Model — Student Success Initiative Financial Model

  • Sample — Student Success Initiative Financial Model
  • User Guide — Student Success Initiative Financial Model

Open Educational Resources (OER)

ReportToward Convergence: Creating Clarity to Drive More Consistency in Understanding the Benefits and Costs of OER
Report — Sustaining OER Across the State University of New York (SUNY) System. Capitalizing on State Investment by Creating an Educational Ecosystem
Report — rpk’s field guide for the SUNY System supports sustainable open education resources initiatives and other student success investments
Article — No-Cost Learning Materials: A Good Idea Before COVID-19, Now More Important Than Ever
ReportLaunching OER Degree Pathways — rpk GROUP’s study in partnership with SRI and ATD demonstrates that OER supports student success and a sustainable business model.
Webinar — Bringing OER to Scale: The Academic & Economic Outcomes of ATD’s OER Degree Initiative

Credit for Prior Learning

Report — The Business Model Behind New ‘Recognition of Non-institutional Learning’ Initiatives

  • Case Study — Financial Services Pathway – Mi Casa Resource Center, CC of Aurora, and MSU Denver
  • Case Study — Professional Learning Evaluations – SUNY Empire State College
  • Case Study — Credits2Careers Portal – Virginia Community College System
Model — Recognition of Non-institutional Learning ROI Model

  • Sample — Recognition of Non-institutional Learning ROI Model

Competency Based Education (CBE)

ReportCompetency-Based Education Business Model Report — A Study of Four New Models and Their Implications for Bending the Higher Education Cost Curve

Sustainable Advising Models

Report — The Business Model Case for Sustainable Advising Redesign: A Senior Leadership Primer
Report — The Business Model Case for Sustainable Advising Redesign: A Toolkit

  • Model – Advising Redesign Financial Model
    • Sample – Advising Redesign Financial Model
Report — Technology-enabled Advising and the Creation of Sustainable Innovation
ArticleCreating Sustainable Innovation with iPASS
ArticleDefining Digital Courseware’s ROI in Terms of Student Success

Dual Enrollment

“Launching a new student success initiative takes courage and a commitment to students. Sustaining an initiative, however, requires careful attention to the business model. Nobody designs sustainable innovation toward student success better than rpk GROUP.

Mark McBride, Library Senior Strategist, SUNY System Administration