Evaluating the Impact of Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success (iPASS)


Integrated Planning and Advising for Student Success (iPASS) is an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which recently made its second large investment in 26 colleges and universities engaged in technology-mediated advising reform.

The iPASS initiative provides technology tools and data about students’ academic performance to both students and advisers. These tools and the integrated data help advisers better support students, provide students with more detailed information about their academic progress, and guide them to additional resources that can help. This is achieved by integrating student data such as academic performance in current classes, progress toward a degree, and risk or early alert indicators. In the absence of iPASS, these data may be siloed in different departments or software systems.

This study will address two areas of need: first, increasing the capacity of institutions to engage in high-quality iPASS practices by combining technology with redesigned advising that provides sustained, strategic, and proactive support to students; and second, building the evidence base on the potential impact of integrated, comprehensive, technology-mediated advising.

MDRC, in partnership with the Community College Research Center (CCRC), worked with the study institutions in an initial planning phase through 2016 and is launching randomized controlled trials at three iPASS postsecondary institutions in spring 2017.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

MDRC, in partnership with the Community College Research Center (CCRC), is working with three iPASS grantee postsecondary institutions to build their advising and student support capacity and conduct randomized controlled trials to evaluate the impact of a more intensive student experience with iPASS. Students will be randomly assigned to a program group, which will receive a more intensive iPASS intervention, or to a control group, which will have access to existing iPASS technologies and standard advising services at the institution. Over the course of two semesters, students in the program group will receive personalized outreach from academic advisers, enhanced communication of risk assessments and early alert warnings, and required advising sessions that incorporate information from iPASS technologies. The study will track students’ outcomes over three years in order to compare the performance of students in the program group with that of students in the control group. The three participating institutions will launch their iPASS interventions in the spring 2017 semester. A second cohort will be enrolled in the study in the fall 2017 semester.

The two key research questions the iPASS evaluation will address are:

  1. How do colleges design intensive iPASS interventions and communicate them so that advisers will consistently adopt them?

  2. What is the impact on student outcomes of being assigned to the iPASS program group (proactive outreach, coupled with intensive, required iPASS advising), compared with the status quo condition (access to iPASS tools and advising that is usually voluntary for students)?

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

The participating institutions are:

  • University of North Carolina at Charlotte

  • California State University at Fresno

  • Montgomery County Community College

While the specifics of the intervention are being shaped by each study institution, each will include mandatory academic advising, early alert indicators and risk assessment, personalized communication and outreach from advisers, and the use of information collected from iPASS technologies — guided by a conversational prompt — during advising interactions.

The quantitative data analyzed will include transcript data, demographic data, and iPASS data that will vary by institution but may include the use of information on targeted risk, the use of advising services, and students' responses to outreach communications. Qualitative data from focus groups and interviews with staff members and students will be employed to assess the implementation of iPASS at the study institutions.