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University of Arizona: When a B Isn’t Good Enough

In Fall 2016, The University of Arizona (UA) combed through its academic data and discovered that students who seemed poised to graduate—those with strong grades in foundational courses—were leaving at higher-than-expected rates. The University needed to know why, and how they could help these students stay and graduate.


Illume Courses revealed that students who earned a C in an introductory writing composition course at the University of Arizona are very likely to persist to the next term; however, they are only 48% likely to graduate. Earning an A or a B increases a student’s likelihood of graduating to 67%, nearly a 20 percentage point(pp) improvement.


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Administrators and faculty are now creating plans to identify B and C students who may be on the bubble and rolling out interventions such as simple email communication or recommended visits to the Writing Center. The University used Illume Impact to gauge the effectiveness of the writing center. Impact, which features, prediction-based propensity score matching (PPSM), showed a 3.4pp lift in persistence for first-year students who used writing services provided at the University of Arizona Think Tank.


General Education courses such as English 101 or Spanish 102 as well as core math courses, such as Math 112, are proving to be highly accurate indicators of whether a student will graduate, even for students who earn a B or a C. The University will look more deeply into these courses to gather more insight into seemingly low-risk students, such as those carrying 3.0 GPAs without demonstrating any traditional warning signs.


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