group of students gathered together in the oak grove, from a distance

I am pleased to share details about our Student Success Infrastructure, a new organizational model that will drive us closer to our goal of student centeredness. Built with your input and with the best practices from universities across the country, the infrastructure will provide proactive, direct support to all of our students. It will augment existing resources, like the University College, while standardizing and streamlining tools and processes. This work will reduce the burden on departments and offices that have been expected to be experts in solving all the problems a student may face.

Key to the SSI will be navigators—frontline staff members who will support every IUP student and will intervene to help students, faculty, and other staff as needed. Two data specialists will provide standardized dashboards and training to help navigators—and all of us—better support students. A 12-month Academic Advising Center will augment the advising already being done in academic departments across the university. 

The navigators and Academic Advising Center will be housed in the University College, benefiting from and enhancing the UC’s current work. Amber Racchini, who oversees the UC, will oversee this augmented organization, assuming the position of vice provost for Student Academic Success. 

Because being an exceptionally student-centered university is IUP’s number one priority and requires attention, coordination, and change that involves every member of the IUP community, Paula Stossel will move from her current position in Enrollment Management to serve as the strategic advisor to the president for Student Success, reporting directly to me and being part of my cabinet.

The SSI will require an initial investment of start-up funds—although less than might be expected, because we will not refill the positions of Ms. Stossel and Dr. Racchini. We also expect internal transfers to fill a number of navigator positions. We have identified unspent, one-time funds from the Strategic Enrollment Initiative and from COVID-19 relief that will more than cover the first year’s costs. Over time, the work will increase retention, persistence, and revenue to cover the cost.

The announcement below provides additional details. Ms. Stossel will be happy to answer additional questions.

Student Success Infrastructure Mission

During the Opening of the Academic Year address, I announced our intention to develop a world-class student success model to address our continued work toward becoming a more student-centered university. The expectations of this model included creating specific solutions and amplifying others to improve the retention, persistence, and success of our students.

Today, following months of work that has included consulting internal stakeholders and reviewing national models for student success, I am excited to announce the Student Success Infrastructure. SSI builds on your existing good work and focuses on providing the support and proactive intervention that our students need and deserve.

The mission of the Student Success Infrastructure is clear and direct: to help each and every student at IUP persist while providing the highest quality academic and personal experience possible, from pre-enrollment through program completion. SSI will combine in-person and online proactive, direct, and individualized support with technology and centralization of ongoing efforts. It will eliminate duplicate efforts to streamline the student experience while recognizing each student’s unique strengths and challenges. Eliminating duplication and standardizing student support processes will also reduce and simplify the work of departments and offices across the university.

A Personal Connection for All Students

A total of 18 employees called navigators will provide this hands-on support to students. Every student at every level, in every program, and at every IUP location will have a navigator. These professionals will work as “boots on the ground” members of the Student Success Infrastructure, using available data, tools, and dashboards to provide outreach to their students, to proactively triage immediate issues that arise, to remove barriers to success, and to respond to questions. While interaction will be individualized, the navigators will work within a larger student communication plan that includes scheduled touch points and outreach messaging.

Navigators will begin their relationship with new students and their families soon after admission and with continuing students and their families before the beginning of each semester.

More Student-Centered Data

While the hands-on, personal relationships between students and navigators are central to the success of this initiative, immediate and reliable data is at the foundation of a successful intervention and problem-solving effort. 

To ensure that this data foundation is in place, the Student Success Infrastructure includes the hiring of two Student Success Data and Technology specialists, who will report to Chris Kitas, executive director of Institutional Research, Planning, and Assessment. Initially, these specialists, in collaboration with IUP partners, will analyze IUP’s tools and technologies to determine how to integrate the data that these technologies offer into one centralized system, including a more robust use of IUP Advise. This information will be critical to helping navigators understand the whole picture of a student and intervene immediately as needed. The specialists will provide day-to-day insights and analytics to inform proactive success and intervention strategies. They will develop workshops and training for IUP faculty and staff to ensure that all IUP employees have the skills they need to use these technologies.

Key Leadership Roles

While the navigators will most likely be the face of this initiative to students and will be critical partners for faculty and staff, much work will take place behind the scenes to have the greatest impact on our students.

Because of the importance of this initiative, I have asked Paula Stossel, currently serving as associate vice president in the Division of Enrollment Management, to join my cabinet as the strategic advisor to the president for Student Success. In this role, she will provide vision and direction for an ongoing process of cultural transformation for exceptional student centeredness. She will create and implement university-wide plans—in collaboration with divisions, colleges, units, and departments—designed to support this transformation, creating institutional efficiencies that positively impact student success.

Amber Racchini, acting assistant vice provost for the University College, will serve as vice provost for Student Academic Success and will work closely with Ms. Stossel. In this position, Dr. Racchini will serve as the strategic leader for the University College and will focus on academic support for all students at all levels. She will report to Provost Luetkehans. The navigators will have a direct reporting line to Dr. Racchini in this new role. She also will supervise a year-round Advising Center (location to be determined), providing a physical space for students and navigators that will complement a virtual presence.

Student Advising Remains Key to Success

The director of Academic Advising, a 12-month, temporary faculty position to be named shortly, will oversee the Advising Center and will serve as a liaison between the navigators and faculty and staff. Faculty advising and the one-on-one advising relationship remain critical to serving our students. The work of the navigators and the Student Success Infrastructure team is designed to assist—not replace—faculty academic advising responsibilities. The director of Academic Advising will be an active resource for faculty advisors on academic policy at the undergraduate and graduate levels, Liberal Studies, and graduation requirements and will provide professional development opportunities for faculty advisors, particularly in matters related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the advising process.

Next Steps and Timing

To impact students joining us this fall, we will bring the navigators and the Data and Technology specialists on board by early summer. While some members of the SSI team may be new additions to the IUP community, we expect that a number of our current employees may elect to move into these positions. In addition to training planned throughout the summer for the Student Success Infrastructure team members, the Data and Technology specialists will continue to build out dashboards and tools and will refine, build, and deliver training programs and materials for university-wide deployment.

We will closely monitor the results of the Student Success Infrastructure initiatives and will adjust as needed. We will keep you informed as we move forward. Please join me in welcoming our team leaders to their new roles and in welcoming our specialists and navigators as they begin their work here.

I appreciate all of the hard work that so many people have done to bring this initiative forward as a proposal, now refined into this plan. The research to determine the challenges and obstacles that students face has been honest and thorough (and at times painful) and identifying tried and tested best practices that are right for IUP was thoughtfully and carefully done. 

Much of the Student Success Infrastructure builds on the great work already being done by individuals across the university who care deeply about our students and who are committed to their success. Thank you. Please continue that commitment to our students by contributing as fully as you can to the Student Success Infrastructure.

More information will be shared as additional details are finalized.

Michael A. Driscoll