Like many states, Texas is seeking to increase the share of adults with postsecondary degrees and credentials. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB)’s Building a Talent Strong Texas strategic plan lays out the state’s ambitious goal: by 2030, 60 percent of Texans ages 25-65 will hold a credential of value. To meet this target, the state has activated and engaged institutions, agencies, and advocates across the state (and nationally) to address the highly-varied educational needs of Texas students and adult residents. Institutions across the state have developed, enhanced, or expanded a wide range of student success programs to better support students.

Texas can only meet its goal through the combined efforts of these many individual institutions innovating and iterating to find what works. Colleges and universities are hotbeds of this type of innovation, drawing on both data and their own expertise about their student populations to offer new approaches to help students achieve their college completion goals. In 2022, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board partnered with Ithaka S+R to develop an inventory of student success programs (“the inventory”) offered at institutions across the state. By providing a public and searchable database of student success programs, the inventory creates an opportunity for student success professionals to share information and best practices.

Today, in a new case study, we spotlight five programs from the inventory that stand out in their innovative practices. These five programs—the Rainy Day Savings Program and ACC Career Scholars at Austin Community College, the TECHniques Center at Texas Tech University, the Scholar Enrichment Program at the University of Houston, and the Course Transformation Program at Texas State University—have a high potential to positively impact student outcomes. To select these programs, our team first identified programs in the inventory that demonstrated strength in one or more dimensions aligned with potential for impact (including use of promising practices, scale and scope, orientation to evidence, evidence of program effectiveness, and sustainability or potential for return on investment) and then selected five of these programs with an eye toward programmatic, institutional, and geographic diversity.

These programs are thus diverse in many respects, with differences in their approach, maturity, and student populations served. One is still being scaled from an initial pilot phase; others have been around for decades. Most of the programs target students directly; though one targets faculty instead. In addition, each program is geared toward different student populations and each draws from different funding sources (making use of grants, institutional funds, and even fees for service).

Despite these differences, in speaking with program and institutional leaders, our team found some surprising commonalities that have enabled these programs to thrive. In this blog, we share some of our key findings from our case study and takeaways for student success professionals to consider.

Highlighting two key findings

To learn more about these five programs, our team conducted semi-structured conversations during the summer of 2023 with program leaders, senior institutional leaders, and data or research professionals at each institution who could speak to the program’s design and operation as well as any evaluations on the programs’ impact. Following these conversations, five themes emerged surrounding features that support student success programs’ potential for impact. The full case study goes into more detail about all five themes. In this blog post, we highlight two of these themes with broad relevance to student success professionals.

Incorporation of data-informed decision-making in program design and implementation

Our case study highlights specific, concrete, real-life examples of how institutional and program leaders have considered data to maximize their program’s impact. Some of the programs employed data in their very design: the ACC Career Scholars program used labor market data to target students in programs that lead to high-demand, well-paying jobs, while the Course Transformation Program consulted literature on effective course design to infuse evidence-based practices into the classroom.

The majority of the programs consulted program evaluation results in their continuous improvement efforts. Program evaluation can be a meaningful tool to determine whether a program is having the intended impact and identify areas for formative improvement, but it can also be expensive and time-consuming; several of the profiled programs innovated to make program evaluation possible. The Scholar Enrichment Program made use of graduate student capacity at their own institution, while the Rainy Day Savings Program partnered with an external evaluator at a nearby research center.

Developing program participants’ autonomy and leadership skills

Another important theme that emerged across programs was intentionality in cultivating participant autonomy. Since the strategic plan emphasizes that credentials of value ought to “propel graduates into lasting, successful careers,” designing an effective educational experience should include building students’ skills both inside and outside the classroom. Student success programs can enhance their potential for impact by incorporating this type of skill-building directly into the design of the program.

For instance, the Rainy Day Savings Program didn’t just give students money for emergency aid; it helped them develop financial literacy skills to build their own emergency savings fund. The Scholar Enrichment Program and the TECHniques Center didn’t just provide services for students while they were enrolled; they encouraged former recipients of services to further develop their leadership skills by becoming peer tutors themselves and provided training to help them do so effectively. Though the Course Transformation program targeted improvement in specific courses with high rates of poor student performance, faculty who participated in the program expected that the pedagogy and course design skills they learned would be applicable to other courses they might teach.


Reaching system-wide targets at a macro level requires institutional and programmatic innovation at the micro level. Institutions in Texas are demonstrating how these micro-level efforts are moving the state in the right direction. While institutional administrators and staff know their own students best, new and evolving programs do not need to reinvent the wheel. They can and should learn from each other. Our newly released case study offers inspiration on effective and innovative student success practices, and the inventory of Texas student success programs can be a resource to find similar programs that could be worth reaching out to for collaboration or advice.

Finally, if you lead a student success program and would like better data about your impact but don’t have the internal capacity to evaluate the program’s effectiveness, consider reaching out to see if Ithaka S+R might be a good fit as an external evaluator.