Insights on access, affordability efforts

Derrick Tillman-Kelly
Special Assistant, Center for Higher Education Enterprise; University Innovation Alliance fellow


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When it comes to college access, affordability and student success, there is more work to be done, writes Derrick Tillman-Kelly.


Whether listening to presidential candidates call for free community college or following the Lumina Foundation’s Goal 2025 campaign to ensure that 60 percent of Americans hold college degrees, certificates or credentials, there is much attention focused on many aspects of college. Frequently these questions focus on the who, what and how of college access and affordability.

As college student educators and university administrators, we are regularly asked to wrestle with questions like: Who has access to higher education? What does it take for them to pay for it? And, ultimately, who will successfully complete their desired course of study? These questions are central to my work at Ohio State.

I serve in two complementary roles at the university, working as special assistant to the director in the Center for Higher Education Enterprise (CHEE) and as Ohio State’s fellow to the University Innovation Alliance (UIA). CHEE is a research and policy center that seeks to promote the important role postsecondary education plays in society with a central focus on four key areas: access, affordability, engagement and excellence, while the UIA is an 11-member coalition of large, public research universities across the nation committed to making quality college degrees accessible to a diverse body of students.

Given the focus and missions of both organizations, much of my time centers on three important considerations in higher education: access, affordability and student success.

While both CHEE and UIA are relatively new additions to the higher education landscape, they bring timely spotlights to the American higher education enterprise and ensure that all students can access and succeed in a wide array of educational settings.

Officially established by the University Senate in December 2013, CHEE has researched and raised pertinent questions about who has access to higher education and what promotes or inhibits their subsequent success.

While CHEE’s work is surely applicable to the present realities of a wide array of students, there is also an unapologetic examination of the ways in which historically underrepresented, misrepresented and marginalized people access, move through and succeed in college — these include gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer (GLBQ) college students of color, rural youth, alumni of foster care and those currently and formerly in juvenile detention centers, to name a few.

With a related mission, the UIA was established in 2014 as a bold collaborative effort that seeks to help more students succeed in college by partnering to identify and test innovative strategies, scale those practices that work to other alliance campuses and subsequently ensure that those practices are diffused to campuses beyond alliance and across the country.

Ohio State recently hosted a two-day campus visit of the UIA, in which we showcased campus initiatives and programs, but also hosted many conversations on the ethics of big data and predictive analytics as well as lessons learned in change management and innovation. In addition to those conversations, involvement in the UIA also has begun to impact the way we achieve core institutional goals of access, affordability and excellence.

For example, since beginning the work of the UIA, we have taken a critical look at the campus change process for students who begin at our regional campuses, academic advising and the use of data to ensure student success. As a result, the university has adopted the Educational Advisory Board Student Success Collaborative, a predictive analytics platform that will enable campus advising professionals and senior administrators to engage students and support their success in more informed ways.

There are a few ways for this to occur. First, the analytics platform will reduce the number of programs and screens advisors must view to understand where a student is academically. By pulling those information sources into one portal, the tool should greatly reduce the time advisors need to prepare for advising appointments. Second, the system will use years of student academic performance data (e.g., course grades, sequence completion) to identify critical or milestone courses in a student’s academic major, while also generating easy-to-decipher probabilities for a student’s success in a particular major based on his/her current and past academic performance. This is displayed to academic advisors as color-coded (i.e., red, yellow, green) indicators that note the degree to which a student is on track to graduate in four years.

Ohio State’s work toward continued access and affordability is a broad effort that has and must continue to touch all aspects of campus. Through the work of CHEE and our participation in the UIA, I’m fortunate to partner with a diverse group of campus leaders to ensure that Ohio State continues to pursue our desire to be a world-class university accessible to the people of Ohio and beyond in a manner that is both affordable and excellent.


About the author

Derrick Tillman-Kelly
Derrick Tillman-Kelly
Special Assistant, Center for Higher Education Enterprise; University Innovation Alliance fellow

An experienced higher education researcher, administrator and project manager, Derrick Tillman-Kelly is a 2015 PhD graduate of Ohio State’s Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) program. His research interests consider three aspects of higher education: (a) leadership and organizational socialization of administrators, (b) minority-serving institutions and (c) impact of identity intersections on academic and social experiences of college students.

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