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Calbright College Research Partnership with UC Irvine, ideas42 Advances Student Success

Initial Data Illustrates Accelerated Progress Through Calbright Programs with New Student Support Interventions

Sacramento, Calif, October 5, 2023 – Calbright College has partnered with the University of California, Irvine School of Education (UCI) and behavioral design nonprofit ideas42 to advance educational outcomes for adult learners through behavioral and data science strategies. The partnership, which was formally established in late 2021 and is now fully operational, leverages behavioral science insights, data science techniques, and proactive student support methods to help more Calbright students complete their programs and improve the operations of the fully online and flexibly paced college. The joint effort includes a team of leading education researchers from UCI and other academic institutions (Professors Di Xu, Richard Arum, Jutta Heckhausen, Rene Kizilcec, and Ben Castleman) as well as Tom Tasche, Dan Rosica, Doyoung Jeong from ideas42. 

“From the outset, Calbright has been at the forefront of efforts to support adult learners, constantly iterating and improving our educational model to better fit the needs and goals of our diverse students. We are grateful to collaborate with these industry-leading partners to build an engine of rapid-cycle innovation within Calbright that is allowing us to continuously enhance our operations in ways that nurture the success of adult learners and accelerate their career outcomes,” said Calbright’s Head of Strategic Growth and Development Marisa Bold. “The college-wide process we use to drive this iteration is as critically important as the improvements themselves, and early results from this partnership demonstrate the power of a student-centered, data-driven, and action-oriented approach to meaningfully advance and accelerate student outcomes.” 

Keeping students engaged in an online, asynchronous learning environment is a shared challenge across higher education and one that Calbright is actively working to address. Recent student feedback has also highlighted an additional challenge: Calbright’s flexibly paced education model, while the reason many students are able to enroll, can also sometimes act as a double-edged sword. Programs without a set schedule for coursework or firm deadlines for assignments offer adult learners much-needed flexibility in terms of how they get their work done, but they also call for significantly more self-discipline to remain on track. 

This feedback led the partnership teams—which includes Calbright faculty and staff across a myriad of departments as well as experts from UCI and ideas42—to develop a model of program timelines that help create a customized structure for students. These sets of suggested target dates for the completion of coursework, which range from a few months to a year and were chosen by students based on their personal availability and goals, were implemented across a pilot group of Calbright students in the College’s Customer Relationship Management (Salesforce) Platform Administration program. The pilot program ran between March 2023 and May 2023.

Initial results suggest the timelines supported students in completing a substantially higher share of program work and making faster progress through their program compared to students who enrolled at the same time but did not participate in the pilot. In the first month after enrolling, students offered timelines as part of the pilot completed roughly 30 percent of program assignments, compared to less than 20 percent for students in the control group; and this pattern appears to hold as students progress further from their enrollment date. Nearly four months into using timelines, the pilot group completed around 40 percent of assignments, while the control group averaged a completion rate under 25 percent. While the full effects of the timelines will not be clear until they can be examined over a longer time period and across other programs, these early indications are statistically significant and have helped Calbright continue to develop new ways of supporting students in structuring their learning. 

“We’re encouraged by the early results of the timelines pilot, both the uplift in the pace of student completion as well as feedback from students about how it’s helping build their confidence to get the work done,” said Tom Tasche, Principal Behavioral Designer at ideas42. “We view these results as a proof point not only for the timelines we developed, but also the effectiveness of the broader approach we’re taking through this partnership. In close collaboration with Calbright and UCI, we’re able to rapidly develop student-centered solutions, generate evidence on how they work at Calbright, scale them up throughout the college, and share what we learn with the broader field. We think this kind of approach has the potential to unlock breakthroughs not just at Calbright but more broadly across the higher education landscape.”

Positive student feedback from the program timelines pilot further validates the need for structure within flexibly paced educational models. A full review of this partnership and pilot initiative was discussed during Calbright’s July 2023 Board of Trustees meeting, and corresponding slides, which include student quotes, can be found here. As Calbright continues to test program timeline efficacy across the duration of its CRM program, the College now offers supportive timelines for all incoming CRM students and will explore expansion of this structure within the context of other programs in the future. Additionally, this partnership will continue to develop interventions that address other challenges widely observed in online learning, such as facilitating effective interpersonal interactions. More information regarding this partnership is available in Calbright’s 2022-2023 Milestone Report.

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