UNC Charlotte among first Student Success Innovation Lab grantees

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Helping students complete their undergraduate degrees in a timely manner is important to UNC Charlotte and the entire UNC System. The University recently received a financial award to implement “Funds to Finish?” as part of the inaugural Student Success Innovation Lab (SSIL) grant competition.

Elise Demeter, senior assessment research analyst with the UNC Charlotte Office of Assessment and Accreditation, said the new program is designed to promote timely degree completion by helping undergraduates plan out the financial resources needed to finish their desired degree program.

“The ‘Funds to Finish?’ program supports UNC Charlotte’s institutional goal to increase graduation of economically disadvantaged students by nearly 30 percent by 2022,” said Demeter. “The program is designed to help undergraduates avoid prematurely exhausting their financial aid options. While this obstacle can affect any student’s ability to graduate on time, it is especially significant for lower-income students.”

Demeter and MarcouxPredictive data analytics will identify eligible undergraduates. Students who elect to participate in “Funds to Finish?” will take a short, non-credit financial literacy course and complete an academic degree plan. Then, they will chart their financial path to finish their degrees using a newly created college financial planning web application designed by a UNC Charlotte-based team. Students will vet their academic and financial plans with their academic advisors to ensure they are realistic and include all academic requirements.

In addition to Demeter, the University’s leadership team for “Funds to Finish?” includes Christopher Marcoux, senior research analyst, Office of Institutional Research; Tina McEntire, associate provost, Enrollment Management; Audrey Rorrer, research associate professor, College of Computing and Informatics (CCI); John Smail, associate provost for Undergraduate Education and dean of University College; and Lisa Walker, associate dean for graduation and advising, Office of Undergraduate Education.

Mohsen Dorodchi, a teaching professor in CCI, is leading a team of graduate students charged with creating the tools and resources needed to implement the program.

UNC Charlotte is one of six UNC System institutions selected for SSIL awards to support innovative interventions designed to improve students’ time to degree. The ECMC Foundation, the John M. Belk Endowment, Arnold Ventures and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation provided funding to support the awards. 

External faculty members from the institutions receiving awards will work with the universities that won SSIL grants. Dora Gicheva, an associate professor of Economics at UNC Greensboro, will assist UNC Charlotte by tracking participating students’ academic progress to evaluate the effectiveness of “Funds to Finish?’

CCI studentsCato College faculty member Carl Westine, assistant professor of Educational Research, will help East Carolina University to evaluate its program, which will expand an existing learning assistant model to include additional gatekeeper courses in subject areas with high rates of D’s, fails and withdraws. The learning assistants, who are trained, near-peer undergraduate student instructors, will co-teach courses with instructors while concurrently enrolled in a course on curriculum and pedagogy.

“As one of the two research affiliates on the project, along with Dr. Nianbo Dong of the UNC Chapel Hill School of Education, my role thus far has been to design the research study, which we are implementing as a multilevel quasi-experimental design with propensity score matching,” said Westine. “Moving forward, I will be involved in monitoring implementation, understanding the students' experiences and ultimately analysis of the collected data. I also have a graduate student in our new Ph.D. in Educational Research, Measurement and Evaluation program, Tong Wu, who will help with the effort.” 

East Carolina University, N.C. A&T State University, UNC Asheville, UNC Charlotte, UNC Greensboro and UNC Pembroke are this year’s cohort of SSIL grant awardees.

Photos, inset, Elise Demeter and Christopher Marcoux, principal investigators on the “Funds to Finish?” project, and graduate students from the College of Computing and Informatics who are assisting with the effort, left to right, Erfan Al-Hossami, Urma Haldar and Deepakraj Gobinathan. Not pictured is Elana Moore, a graduate student in the Cato College of Education.