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Ask A REL Response

June 2020


What research has been conducted on best practices in academic planning at the college/university level?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on best practices in academic planning at the college/university level. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed the best practices in academic planning at the college/university level. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. These references are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Middaugh, M. F. (2009). Closing the loop: Linking planning and assessment. Planning for Higher Education, 37(3), 5-14.
    From the abstract: "Institutions often engage in elaborate assessment and planning processes that have little or no relationship to each other. Highly effective institutions are characterized by strategic planning activities that are intentionally informed by assessments of both student learning outcomes and the extent to which human and fiscal resources are being maximized in support of teaching and learning. This article examines specific assessment strategies and ways of using those assessments to inform planning at a college or university. (Contains 4 figures and 1 note.)"
  2. Schneider, K. R., Bickel, A., & Morrison-Shetlar, A. (2015). Planning and implementing a comprehensive student-centered research program for first-year STEM undergraduates. Journal of College Science Teaching, 44(3), 37-43.
    From the abstract: "Retaining college-level science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) students remains a priority in higher education. A variety of methods have been shown to increase retention, including mentorship, tutoring, course enhancements, community building, and engagement in high-impact practices such as undergraduate research. In 2011, an Office of Undergraduate Research at a large research university developed a program that incorporates multiple forms of student-centered programming with a focus on research. Learning Environment and Academic Research Network (LEARN) is a living-learning community wherein first-year students live in the same residence hall, take specific classes together, work with mentors, and engage in a 12-week mentored research apprenticeship. LEARN aims to recruit first-generation and underrepresented students. Such a program requires input and participation from numerous stakeholders. This article provides reviews of the development, implementation, and lessons learned from starting the program. To date the program has many early signs of success, including exceeding recruitment goals, higher GPA and retention rates, gains in student learning, and high levels of engagement in academic and leadership experiences."
  3. Visher, M. G., Mayer, A. K., Johns, M., Rudd, T., Levine, A., & Rauner, M. (2016). Scaling academic planning in community college: A randomized controlled trial (REL 2017- 204). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory West.
    From the abstract: "Community college students often lack an academic plan to guide their choices of coursework to achieve their educational goals, in part because counseling departments typically lack the capacity to advise students at scale. This randomized controlled trial tests the impact of guaranteed access to one of two alternative counseling sessions (group workshops or one-on-one counseling), each of which was combined with targeted "nudging." Outcome measures included scheduling and attending the counseling session, completing an academic plan, and re-enrolling in the following semester. Evidence suggests that both variations on the intervention increase academic plan completion rates by over 20 percentage points compared to a control group that did not receive guaranteed access to a counseling session or the automated nudges. Exploratory evidence suggests that when combined with nudging, the guarantee of workshop counseling is as effective as the guarantee of one-on-one counseling in causing students to schedule and attend academic planning appointments. The following are appended: (1) Study background and intervention characteristics; (2) Study data sources, design and analysis; (3) Supplemental tables; and (4) Descriptions of MySite, Sherpa, and My Academic Plan systems."
  4. Wang, X., Wang, Y., Wickersham, K., Sun, N., & Chan, H. (2017). Math requirement fulfillment and educational success of community college students: A matter of when. Community College Review, 45(2), 99-118.
    From the abstract: "Objective: In community colleges, achieving competence in math is critical to students' timely progression through coursework and eventual educational success; yet, it remains unclear when the optimal timing to complete required math courses is in order to maximize the chance of completing a credential on time. This study examines the timing of college-level math requirement fulfillment in relation to the longer term success of community college students. Method: Utilizing survey data and transcript records of 320 students from an urban community college, we performed a survival analysis to investigate how the precise academic terms in which students complete math requirements, taking into account other student behaviors, are related to credential completion. Results: Findings reveal that completing math requirements at earlier (e.g., first semester) or later (e.g., fourth or fifth semester) stages of college is related to a higher rate of credential completion. Students who engage in active learning, find academics challenging, and feel academically supported have a higher probability of completing a credential, whereas student-faculty interactions are negatively related to credential completion. Contributions: Our findings reveal that fulfilling college-level math requirements early on promises higher odds of credential completion. However, this momentum can be achieved by completing math requirements in Term 1, or it can also be delayed until Terms 4 or 5. It is thus imperative to find ways to more accurately assist community colleges and their students in planning the educational pathways, programs, and services that prevent students from stumbling over necessary math requirements and maximize overall success."
  5. Willson, R. (2006). The dynamics of organizational culture and academic planning. Planning for Higher Education, 34(3), 5-17.
    From the abstract: "Planning approaches are in a dynamic relationship with organizational culture. This article uses a case study of academic planning at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona to draw a correspondence between types of organizational culture and planning approaches. The case study shows the differing conceptions of organizational culture held by stakeholders and links them to alternate planning approaches. Unresolved conflicts about organizational culture impeded agreement on a planning process. Understanding the dynamics of organizational culture can help academic planners design contingent processes that draw from multiple planning approaches. The article concludes with suggestions for academic planners on how to design and implement such processes. (Contains 5 figures and 4 notes.)"


Keywords and Search Strings
The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • College-level academic planning
  • Academic planning, higher education

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.