Case Study

Student Experience Project demonstrates the potential for scalable and sustainable approaches to fostering equitable learning environments that lead to increased student success


students surveyed


Getting accepted into college is a momentous achievement, yet one-third of new college students will not graduate within six years. Students from structurally disadvantaged or underrepresented groups struggle to complete college at the same level as their more structurally and economically advantaged peers. Decades of social psychology research demonstrate that when learning environments are designed such that students feel competent, valued, respected, connected to others, and supported in their learning, it leads to increased academic achievement, improved well-being, and more equitable outcomes. So how can you create a learning environment where everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed?


The Equity Accelerator (EA) worked with STEM faculty, staff, and administrators across six universities in the United States and six organizational partners to transform classroom learning environments in what we call the Student Experience Project (SEP). It was critical to develop partnerships with faculty and instructors who have a significant impact on students' experiences through the tone and culture they set in their classrooms. We wanted to develop approaches that would put the research into practice and enable them to establish classroom environments that support the key elements of what EA calls Cultures of Growth, including social-psychological constructs like social belonging, identity safety, trust and fairness, and self-efficacy. Over the course of two academic years (2020-2021), we worked on testing, implementing, and scaling these practices, and collected feedback from 10,000 students each semester about their classroom experiences.

Key elements of the SEP approach:

    • Regular feedback on student experience
    • Faculty-focused professional development opportunities 
    • Resource guides offering practical changes faculty could make in their courses 
    • Consultation to support faculty and administrators on how to foster cohesive Cultures of Growth 
    • Campus led communities of practice for peer-to-peer support, and network learning meetings facilitated by SEP organizational partners



  • Improved student experience
  • Improved student academic outcomes
  • Improved faculty experience
  • Largest student experience gains for Black, Latinx & Native women experiencing high levels of financial stress
  • Scalable & Sustainable model

What happens when you empower faculty and give them practical training, resources, and tools they can use as part of their regular work to change the cultures of their classrooms and support their students? Everyone benefits. 

The percentage of students reporting an overall positive experience increased by approximately 10.3% across all SEP terms. As students' experiences in their courses improved, so did their academic outcomes. Positive experiences across the semester predicted a greater likelihood of earning A or B grades and a decreased likelihood of earning D, F, or withdrawing from the course. 

Results also support our approach of creating more equitable learning environments. Across all terms, Black, Latina, and Native American Women reported the largest increases in positive experiences of their learning environments (18%), with Black, Latina, and Native American women who were experiencing high levels of financial stress reporting even greater increases in student experience (23%).  Black, Latinx and Indigenous students saw a 21% greater impact on the reduced likelihood of getting a D, F, or withdrawing from courses than their White and Asian peers.

Not only was the impact tangible for students, but also for faculty. When they created Cultures of Growth for themselves through the communities of practice, they in turn felt more supported and expressed an increased sense of belonging at their universities as a result of their participation in our project.

The impact extended beyond individual classrooms, and our model has shown to be scalable across institutions. Whole departments became interested in partnering with us as they saw students' experience and performance rise. From there, growth-oriented approaches focused on improving student experience started appearing in university strategic plans and faculty union negotiations. Many of the participating instructors are now champions of this work in their departments and across campuses. University staff and administrators are currently using growth-culture approaches to redesign their messaging to students, early alert systems, probation policies, and their physical and virtual environments to encourage and enable student success.

The tools EA developed for the SEP have been disseminated widely. We made the validated tools and resources publicly available and accessible online. The Classroom Practices Library (CPL), Syllabus Revision Module, and First Day Toolkit have seen significant engagement, with over 4,000 unique users accessing CPL and nearly 2,000 instructors taking the Syllabus Revision Module. Each effort to expand this work has validated the demand from faculty, practitioners, and administrators. 

By engaging faculty, administrators, and students in a collaborative effort, the SEP not only enhanced individual classroom experiences but also catalyzed systemic changes within institutions, leading to more equitable learning environments and increased student success. It also demonstrates the potential for scalable and sustainable models for addressing equitable learning environments.

This is not just about making changes in a particular course, but it's really a vehicle for changing the culture of the institution, to focus on the student experience, and these faculty have become a sort of core population who are really advocating for that work and those kinds of changes.

Institutional Leader

SEP Participating University

This project was a collaboration with Raikes Foundation, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU), Equity Accelerator (formerly CTC), Education Counsel, Project for Education Research that Scales (PERTS), and Shift.

University Partners: Colorado State University, University of Colorado Denver, University of New Mexico, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Portland State University, and University of Toledo

Dowload the Report

Learn more about the Student Experience Project and read the full report:

Increasing Equity in College Student Experience: Findings from a National Collaborative 

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