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Purpose and Significance

Identifying and addressing the preparedness of newly enrolled college students is one of the most pressing issues in higher education (Fay et al., 2017; Mokher et al., 2019; National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education & Southern Regional Education Board, 2010). In recognition of this issue, the What Works Clearinghouse (Bailey et al., 2016) recommended six strategies for helping students in developmental education. With one exception (offering students monetary incentives), the Diagnostic Assessment and Achievement of College Skills (DAACS) intervention reflects each recommendation (Appendix C-1): 1) using multiple measures to assess readiness, 2), requiring participation in enhanced advising activities, 3) compressing developmental education by mobilizing targeted supports for students’ specific needs, 4) teaching students how to become self-regulated learners, and 5) implementing comprehensive, integrated, and long-lasting support programs. The key objective of the current proposal is to rigorously evaluate the effects of DAACS on proximal behavioral measures (e.g., use of resources, help seeking), as well as distal measures of academic progress and student achievement.

DAACS ( is a fully developed, online, free, open-source system with a research-based theoretical framework and promising results from randomized controlled trials of the beta version. As noted above, DAACS reflects the WWC strategies for helping students. It entails multiple measures to assess academic readiness via free, online diagnostic assessments of academic skills (i.e., reading, mathematics, and writing) and self-regulated learning (SRL) processes (i.e., metacognition, use of learning strategies, motivation). The assessments are automatically scored so students receive immediate feedback and access to website links with freely available, targeted supports for students’ specific needs. The SRL and writing assessments provide feedback and guidance for students on how to become self-regulated learners. In order to support participation in enhanced advising activities, the project includes professional development for advisors and online features such as DAACS dashboards to enable easy access to concise summaries of students’ individualized needs and to useful resources. By being integrated into the organizational structure of participating universities and available to students anytime, anywhere, DAACS is a long-lasting support program with field-tested features to ensure student participation.

Developed with the support of a Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) First in the World Grant (FITW; 2016-2019; Grant #P116F150077), DAACS was designed to address persistent problems with college readiness and the limitations of remedial or developmental education. According to The Nation’s Report Card (NCES, 2015), 75% of all high school seniors were unprepared for post-secondary coursework in mathematics, and 63% were unprepared for coursework in reading. Of the 1.8 million high school students who took the ACT in 2019, almost 40% failed to meet any of the four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks (ACT, 2019). Many students who resort to college readiness programs still undertake remedial coursework in college: A Community College Research Center report notes that 68% of community college students and 40% of students at public four-year colleges took at least one remedial course, with an annual cost to all college students nationwide of approximately $7 billion (Jaggars & Stacey, 2014). Unfortunately, numerous studies that show remedial coursework to be ineffective, unnecessary for the majority of students, and associated with negative outcomes such as increased cost, time to degree, and attrition (e.g., Attewell et al., 2006; Bailey et al., 2010).

DAACS provides an alternative to remedial coursework by offering students the opportunity to access information about their level of college readiness and free resources to use to become better prepared on their own while enrolled in credit-bearing courses. In addition, DAACS can be used by college administrators to boost the accuracy of predictions regarding students who may be in the greatest need of supports and services (Bryer et al., 2019).

The beta version of the DAACS system was rigorously evaluated using randomized controlled trials at two online institutions that serve predominantly non-traditional students (n = 21,381). Although the results of the RCT revealed overall null effects on on-time progress and credit acquisition, it was observed that students who actually utilized DAACS feedback showed statistically significant gains in completing their first six months of coursework on-time and were more successful in earning credits than students who only completed the assessments (Bryer et al., 2019). Further, we used the final year of our current FIPSE project to develop new DAACS features, including participation nudges and an advisor dashboard. The purposes of the proposed project are to examine the efficacy, predictive power, and cost effectiveness of the new, fully developed DAACS system across a variety of postsecondary institutions that enroll both traditional and non-traditional college student populations. As a result, we will be able to determine which students are most likely to benefit from the intervention and how that information can help institutions help their students.