Highlights of Findings--June 2000
B. Major Findings
The five major findings from the study are summarized below. At the end of the Highlights of Findings, there are three tables which summarize in quantitative terms the major findings with respect to: who is served by the program (Table 1); where the money is spent (Table 2); and how many students, faculty and staff participate in Title III-funded activities (Table 3).
- The schools describe the focus of their Title III grants as strengthening academic programs and resources, and outcomes for students, rather than on institutional management.
This emphasis on academics and student outcomes is underscored in three ways: needs, expenditures and expected benefits. First, the survey respondents say that the predominant needs that their Title III grants are addressing involve the improvement of academic programs and student outcomes, rather than institutional management. This is a significant finding since the program legislation, while containing a wide variety of program objectives, emphasizes institutional management activities and the achievement of financial stability.
Most of the schools claim that their Title III activities are addressing the need to improve retention and graduation rates. For the Part A schools, "increasing student retention and graduation rates" was cited most often as one of the top three needs being addressed with the Title III grant. The two other top needs were "improving/expanding academic programs" and "improving faculty teaching."
For the Part B schools, "improving/expanding academic programs" was cited most often as one of the top three needs being addressed with the Title III grant. The two other top needs were "increasing student retention and graduation rates" and "improving the quality of academic programs."
In describing the role of Title III funds at their institutions, about half of the 21 case study respondents reported that the grants were used as seed money for developing new academic programs. Almost as many said that Title III provided funding for the introduction or upgrading of information technology. A few respondents viewed Title III's role as providing support for their retention efforts, especially those targeted toward at-risk students. Others said the program gave them the means to leverage other sources of private or governmental funds. Overall, the grants have a flexibility of use that is seldom found in other sources of funding available to postsecondary institutions.
Second, the area of academic programs and resources is where the largest share of Title III funds are spent. Academic programs and resources were defined in the survey as "projects to develop or support curriculum, instruction or research in specific subject areas or to improve central academic support resources such as central libraries, computer centers or networks, telecommunications centers or networks, etc. Includes related grant-funded expenditures for acquisition of equipment or materials."
Seven general activity areas were examined: faculty development; student support services; academic programs and resources; funds and administrative management; facilities; grant administration; and, other. Out of these categories, academic programs and resources were given the most emphasis in terms of the number of grantees pursuing activities in this area, and the dollar amount expended in this category. Within the area of academic programs and resources, most grantees are using the funds on enhancing and expanding technological capabilities. Even for those schools with administrative management activities, student tracking systems were the management system most likely to be impacted by Title III.
Third, the major types of benefits that the schools expect from the Title III activities have to do with the improvement of academic programs and student outcomes. For Part A schools pursuing academic programs and resources activities, the expected benefit cited most often as one of the top two expected benefits was "improvement in students' academic performance." For Part B schools pursuing these activities, the expected benefit cited most often was "improvement in quality or effectiveness of existing academic programs."
The benefit from prior Title III grants that was most likely to be cited in the top three for Part A schools was "improving the quality of academic programs and resources." The most common benefit of past grants cited by Part B HBCU institutions was "improving or expanding academic programs." HBGI institutions cited "improving student services" and "increasing student retention and graduation rates" as the most important benefits of past Title III grants.
In summary, most grantees use Title III funds to strengthen their institution by improving their academic programs and resources. Grantees believe that academic programs and resources at their institutions would not be at the current level of development without the Title III grants. In particular, there is a high probability that central academic support resources at these schools would be considerably less advanced without the assistance of Title III, especially since external flexible funds from other sources are scarce. Overall, many grantee institutions have used their Title III funding for academic program projects that focus on technology, such as library automation, the installation of on-campus computer networks, and the development of centers for computer-assisted instruction.
- The Title III funds are primarily spent on technology, new learning labs or academic skills centers, and curriculum development.
More than half of the Title III schools pursued one or more of the following activities: creating new learning labs or academic skills centers, developing new courses, strengthening existing courses, and establishing electronic linkages with their Title III funds (defined as one of the following: within-campus electronic linkages; linkages of main campus to branch campuses; linkages with other institutions; and, distance-learning linkages to individual off-campus students). New degree programs were less common. Title III plays a crucial role in providing technology to students. Over two-thirds of all schools used Title III funds to establish within-campus electronic linkages.
For many institutions, the availability of Title III money has enabled them to install computer labs and other technology, which can give their students the skills they need to enhance their educational experience and to compete in the job market. The presence of up-to-date equipment has also helped the schools to attract students. Smaller institutions often lack the resources to make an adequate investment in this kind of information technology on their own, especially since these purchases fall outside their traditional patterns of expenditures. Several of the case study institutions commented that Title III had "brought them into the twentieth century" from the standpoint of technology.
- The Title III schools, for the most part, are not in severe financial difficulty.
Fiscal management and financial stability are not key issues for most of these schools in determining where their Title III funds should be spent. While many do not consider themselves financially secure, few are financially unstable. The schools are not claiming that financial stability is a predominant need being addressed with their grant, and they are not using much of their grant funds for administrative management activities.
"Improving fiscal and administrative management" is not considered a top need being addressed with the Title III grant by any of the groups of Title III schools. The institutions are also not inclined to use Title III funds to promote fiscal stability or improve administrative management directly. Only 8 to 17 percent of the Title III grant expenditures in 1995-96 went toward funds and administrative management activities, as compared to 41 to 53 percent spent on academic programs and resources.
During the site visits, study team members spoke with the chief financial officer at most of the case study institutions. Only one of the CFOs viewed the financial condition of his institution as unstable. Most of those interviewed described their financial position as stable, and a few qualified their opinion by saying conditions were stable at present, but they had reservations about the future. For one grantee located in an economically depressed community, the continuity of adequate public funding was a major concern. Most, but not all, of the CFOs at the case study schools believed that Title III had improved their institutions' financial strength. Those that did think Title III had strengthened them financially cited the effects of Title III activities on enrollment, fund-raising potential, and management and communications capabilities.
The patterns of spending may well be indirectly linked to financial stability, due to performance-based funding schemes at the state level, or due to higher quality academic programs leading to increased or constant enrollments. However, the direct focus of most of the Title III activities is not on fiscal management or financial stability issues, and most schools are not addressing financial strength by focusing on management activities such as improved accounting systems or management information systems (MIS) capabilities.
To the extent that past or current financial concerns exist, they are to be found primarily among small private grantees for whom an unexpected change, such as a significant enrollment drop, can produce serious consequences. It has also been the study's observation that Title III funding represents an important, but small part of total resources, except again among small private institutions. However, it should be noted that while Title III grants comprise only a small portion of the average institution's total resources, they comprise a relatively large portion of the average institution's spending on developing the institution.
- The Title III schools play an important role in serving students who have been historically underserved by postsecondary institutions.
High percentages of students at Title III institutions are minority students, especially as compared to all other postsecondary institutions. Throughout this report, minority students are defined, consistent with national data sets, as being in one of the four following groups: Black, non-Hispanic; Hispanic; Asian/Pacific Islander; and, American Indian. On average, 38 percent of the students at Part A schools are minority students, and 86 percent of the students at Part B schools are minority students, as compared to only 20 percent at all other (non-Title III) postsecondary institutions. High percentages of degrees awarded at Title III schools are to minority students, especially as compared to all other postsecondary institutions. In addition, a disproportionate percentage of students at Title III schools are from low-income families and/or are first generation college students.
- The surveys and the case study site visits revealed a number of exemplary Title III programs, defined as sound programs that have produced evidence of success.
The Title III activities that grantees cited as exemplary were concentrated in the areas of student support services and information technology, and the evidence of success presented most frequently during the case study visits was data on student outcomes. The list below illustrates the range of exemplary activities observed during the case study site visits; further details on these projects can be found in the report.
- A comprehensive student support program that has helped underprepared students to graduate at the same rate as students who are not at risk.
- A library automation project that has replaced manual processes with an on-line system for cataloging, acquisitions, and circulation, resulting in a 17 percent increase in library use.
- An instructional technology center designed to help faculty incorporate alternative delivery methods into their teaching practices and improve student outcomes.
- A comprehensive technology initiative, including acquisition of a management information system, installation of a campus network, acquisition of computer equipment for academic use, and development of a computer science major.
- An activity that trained faculty and staff to write proposals for federal and state grants and contracts, and has resulted in a fourfold increase in external funding.
- A center for writing and reading across the curriculum that has integrated information technology into the teaching of basic skills. This program serves a large population of non-native speakers and students needing remedial instruction, and it has led to improved learning outcomes for many of these students.
Replication of model activities can probably best be promoted via grantee-grantee contact and networking, due to the vast amount of variation in grantee characteristics. Suggestions for promoting this type of networking are provided in Section D.
While Mathtech found the evidence on these successful activities to be credible, this finding is based on the few schools visited, and cannot be extrapolated to the larger population of schools. When asked what made these activities successful, case study respondents identified the following features as contributing to good outcomes for Title III activities:
- Widespread involvement of faculty and staff in planning for the grant activities.
- Coordination of grant activities with agreed-upon institutional needs.
- Institutional staff members who are knowledgeable about funded activities.
- Support for Title III activities from institutional leadership.
However, there is no single blueprint that can be disseminated to the schools. Successful management of a Title III grant includes a variety of approaches, depending upon the school's unique culture and mission, the type of project, and the current events facing the institution.
In addition to the general success factors mentioned above, respondents identified several other factors that helped to explain the success of specific types of activities, such as technological initiatives, new programs and curricula, and student retention efforts.
A number of the case study institutions used Title III funding for technological initiatives, and respondents at these schools identified several success factors applicable to this type of project. There was general agreement on the importance of training faculty and staff members to use new instructional technology; two respondents said that release time had been very beneficial in helping faculty members to acquire these skills. Another key attribute of successful programs was comprehensive planning of new computer systems, recognizing the need for maintenance and eventual upgrading of hardware and software. Respondents stressed the need to research new purchases thoroughly, by contacting other institutions that are already using these systems or equipment.
Among the case study institutions that had used Title III to develop new programs or curricula, respondents mentioned a different set of success factors. All stressed the importance of linking their programs to the needs of the local community, especially to potential employers of graduates in the new fields. Two respondents also said the new curriculum areas had benefited from the presence on campus of strong pre-existing programs in related fields.
For schools with effective Title III-funded student retention efforts, several more success factors were identified in the case study site visits. One very small two-year institution cited the individualized attention they provided; each of their students was guided through the critical checkpoints of his or her academic career by a single assigned counselor. A large four-year institution emphasized the proactive nature of their retention services, which are made available, sometimes on a mandatory basis, as soon as a student gets into trouble. A two-year institution that used Title III funds to establish a successful tutoring program claimed that they had found subject-specific tutors to be more effective than "generic" tutors in improving student retention. Respondents at a large two-year school attributed much of their success to the comprehensive and coordinated nature of their student support system. This included placement, registration, a student success course, academic advisement, computer-assisted instruction, an early warning system for students in academic difficulty, and a career development and placement center. All these institutions strive to intervene at the points where students are most in danger of slipping through the academic safety net.
During the site visits, it was not uncommon to find institutionalization difficulties associated with new technologies. The strategy of many institutions has been to use Title III funds to purchase computer hardware, software and related equipment in significant quantities, leading to two potential problems at the end of the grant. The most common problem was finding a source of funds to replace, upgrade and keep current the computer system. Another less frequent problem was finding a continuing source of funds needed for technical staff to support the technology applications. Some institutions had developed longer run strategies and alternative sources of external sources of external funds, but others had not. Grantees were also asked to identify barriers to the success or eventual institutionalization of the Title III-funded activities in their present grants. The responses to this question were very diverse, as might be expected. The most frequently cited barriers were resistance to institutional change on the part of faculty and staff, and insufficient funding - either insufficient funding from Title III to develop these activities fully, or insufficient state and/or institutional funding to continue the activities after the grant period.
The survey instrument asked institutions with previous Title III grants to what extent they had institutionalized their past activities. High percentages reported either full institutionalization or substantial institutionalization of past Title III grant activities. Only a few institutions reported partial institutionalization or little or no institutionalization. For the Part A schools, institutionalization is an explicit requirement and a key criterion of the competitive proposal process by which grants are awarded. These institutions were somewhat more likely to report full or substantial institutionalization of previous grant activities than where it was not explicitly required, as under Part B.