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Shift Work Sep Sub

How can a community turn a broad mission of creating equitable student experiences into a precise and measurable aim, with a shared vision of how to accomplish it?


Higher education institutions are enrolling more diverse student populations than ever before. Even so, one-third of new college students won’t graduate within six years. The Student Experience Project (SEP) was created to tackle inequities in college success by transforming the student experience. SEP is an improvement network that connects universities and national education organizations to accomplish this mission.

SEP provides an opportunity for university partners to adopt innovative, research-based practices and policies to transform their students’ experiences. SEP’s theory of change is based upon strong research which shows that when students experience a sense of belonging and support on campus and in the classroom, they’re more likely to persist through academic challenges and earn their degrees.

Once piloted among students in STEM disciplines, the SEP community is committed to creating replicable models that can be applied more broadly on campuses, for students studying in all fields.

In the first term of implementation in STEM classrooms, students' experiences improved across all demographic groups, with especially large gains for Black, Latina, and Native women.  The team also found that, consistent with previous research, improvements in students’ experiences across the semester were highly correlated with better academic outcomes.

our approach

SEP is a unique learning community of university partners (administrators, faculty and students) and learning partners (national education experts). Shift’s role within the community has been to lead the design of SEP as an improvement network. Shift facilitated a team of community designers to create a specific, measurable aim focused on equity, prioritizing the measurement outcomes and a theory of change (represented in a key driver diagram). Shift designs and facilitates the learning structures in the network to create a network culture conducive of improvement, transparency and learning.

For example, Shift:

  • Teaches continuous improvement (CI) methods in innovation labs. These help teams to learn and apply CI methods to projects that are core to university goals and the SEP theory of change.
  • Creates mechanisms to track and learn about network health. This information helps to ensure that teams: strongly believe that SEP will positively impact outcomes, actively want to participate and contribute, and would recommend SEP to other universities.
  • Supports teams to recruit and partner with student leaders to deepen their improvement efforts and co-produce change.
  • Facilitates the SEP learning structures including in-person and virtual convenings, monthly community calls, and sharing of summarized learning, information, and data through a community report.
  • Coordinates across learning partners to ensure that each person’s role is synchronized, and providing daily management support to operationalize that vision.



College Transition Collaborative, Education Counsel, Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, Coalition of Urban Serving Universities, PERTS, Participating Universities.

This work was funded by the Raikes Foundation.

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