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Discovery Advantage
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Discovery Advantage Preliminary Report

Explore key recommendations and preliminary findings from our workstreams

The Discovery Advantage Preliminary Report on a wooden table

We aspire to become an institution in which students are engaged with a robust network of professional and peer educators who support them through various high-touch experiences along their entire academic journey.

Francine Conway, Ph.D.

Chancellor of Rutgers–New Brunswick

Key Findings and Recommendations

  • To enhance student success and help students navigate the university, we must first identify the goals Rutgers–New Brunswick intends for its students to accomplish through their academic and co‐curricular experiences. We propose a set of shared learning goals to inspire and guide student learning at Rutgers–New Brunswick. The proposed framework builds upon Rutgers University’s learning goals, which identify values our schools hold in common, as well as some skills that are currently not as developed across the schools. Our students will achieve these learning goals through a variety of campus experiences, including general education or core requirements, high‐impact practices, and extracurricular activities, in ways that align with the expectation that all students feel supported, have access to the many opportunities with clear pathways that will help them navigate the university and graduate on time, and see connections to career and advanced degree opportunities. Given the range of schools—professional, liberal arts, fine arts—and accreditation concerns in some disciplines, the next step is to work with schools to articulate how learning goals are achieved.

    Key Recommendations

    Recommendation 2.1. We propose the following learning goals for Rutgers–New Brunswick. We believe a broad, engaged, and consensus-oriented process should be conducted prior to the adoption of revised goals.

    1. Intellectual and Communication Skills  
      • Critical Thinking: Students will develop their ability to engage in logical thinking and complex critical analysis and to conduct interdisciplinary inquiry.
      • Communication: Students will develop their skills in expressing complex ideas through written and oral communication.
      • Mathematical Reasoning and Analysis: Students will develop their skills in analyzing and interpreting numerical data and in reasoning and problem-solving through mathematical processes.
      • Scientific Inquiry: Students will develop their understanding of scientific methods of inquiry, including the use of observation and experimentation to answer questions and generate new knowledge.
      • Information and Computer Literacy: Students will develop competency in navigating, gathering, analyzing, and interpreting information effectively, responsibly, and ethically in an increasingly data-driven environment.
      • Creative and Empathetic Inquiry: Students will understand and engage in creative practices as a means of self-expression and relating to others.
    2. Understanding Human Behavior, Society, and the Natural Environment 
      • Historical Understanding: Students will develop their understanding of the historical bases of the societies and world in which we live.
      • Global and Diverse Understandings: Students will understand how individual and group identities, histories, perspectives, and experiences both shape and are shaped by broader societal, political, and economic systems and power differentials. This should include developing an awareness of other cultures and societies.
      • Understanding of Literary and Artistic Expression: Students will develop their understanding of and appreciation of the various creative literary and artistic endeavors.
      • Understanding the Bases of Individual and Social Behavior: Students will develop their understanding of the nature of human behavior.
      • Understanding the Physical and Biological World: Students will develop their understanding of the natural environment in which we live and the forces that have shaped it.
    3. Responsibilities of the Individual in Society
      • Community and Civic Engagement: Students will become informed and active members of their communities who understand local, national, and global governance systems and contemporary challenges.
      • Social and Ethical Awareness: Students will have the ability to recognize and address ethical questions, to make reasoned judgments about alternative solutions, and to adhere to ethical standards in their academic, personal, and professional pursuits.
  • The process of helping our students navigate Rutgers–New Brunswick begins with recruitment and admission. Our marketing and recruitment materials can help prospective and new students understand the opportunities available at Rutgers–New Brunswick and its various schools, while helping our institution attract a diverse and highly qualified student body.

    Key Recommendations
    • Recommendation 3.1. We recommend increased marketing and recruitment efforts in key out-of-state and international markets.
    • Recommendation 3.4. We recommend that Rutgers–New Brunswick remain test optional going forward. Enrollment Management, in consultation with academic leadership, will continue to review its admissions policies and procedures on a yearly basis and can recommend further changes as necessary.
  • Many factors contribute to student retention and a sense of belonging on campus. These include a number of curricular and co-curricular experiences such as first-year seminars, transfer seminars, undergraduate research experiences, and learning communities; these and similar experiences are considered High Impact Practices (HIPs). Rutgers–New Brunswick already offers several such programs—but there is little coordination among them, and students often do not recognize the importance of these opportunities as enhancements to their academic path and ways to prepare for post-graduation success.

    Key Recommendations
    • Recommendation 4.1. In light of the well documented benefits of High‐Impact Practices (HIPs) and High‐Impact Experiential Learning (HIEL) opportunities], we recommend that all Rutgers–New Brunswick students should participate in one HIP during their first year (transfer students during their first semester) and at least two others before graduation.

      HIPs should be available across class years and include HIELs. Particular attention should be given to developing HIPs suitable for second‐year students in that our first‐year retention rates are relatively strong, but the second year presents a retention cliff. Methods of incentivizing participation, such as credentialing, should be explored.

    • Recommendation 4.9. We recommend that Rutgers–New Brunswick establish Discovery First-Year Neighborhoods on the College Avenue, Busch, Livingston, Douglass, and Cook campuses, to include residential students and affiliated commuter students.

  • Although retention is often associated only with academic success and a sense of belonging on campus, financial considerations also affect retention, and many students who withdraw from the university cite financial issues as a factor. Thus, we have considered modifications to financial aid policies and procedures that will enhance student retention and ensure timely graduation with minimal debt.

    Key Recommendations
    • Recommendation 5.1. We recommend continued focus on Oracle Student Financial Planning (OSFP) challenges and that steps be taken to avoid similar issues moving forward.
    • Recommendation 5.2. We recommend Rutgers–New Brunswick begin proactive preparation for the FAFSA Simplification Act implementation.

  • The size of Rutgers–New Brunswick and its sheer number of courses, majors, programs, and co-curricular experiences are among its greatest strengths and most significant challenges. Students and parents cite this wealth of opportunities as among Rutgers–New Brunswick’s most attractive features. At the same time, however, the presence of so many options and opportunities—which may be poorly advertised and/or scattered among departments and programs—can be difficult to navigate. We have presented proposals in two targeted areas with the intent of significantly improving students’ ability to navigate the university: curriculum mapping and advising (or, more broadly, academic support). Enabling students to better navigate the university will help improve retention and timely graduation.

    Key Recommendations
    • Recommendation 6.1. We recommend that Rutgers–New Brunswick adopt curriculum mapping, following the proposed template and modified for each major, to help students better navigate the many curricular and co-curricular options available.
    • Recommendation 6.7. We recommend that Rutgers–New Brunswick ensure student-to-adviser ratios (for both academic advising and career preparation) are sufficiently low to allow for timely individualized support.

      For academic advising, we recommend adopting the guidance of the Boyer 2030 report and having a ratio of matriculants to school-level professional, full-time advisors of no more than 250 to one, and matriculant to faculty advisor ratio of no more than 25 to one when faculty are providing general advising support. For career preparation, the ratio of students to career advisers in the Career Exploration and Success (CES) office should be no higher than 2,778:1 (midpoint of AAU institutions surveyed in 2019).

    • Recommendation 6.18. We recommend that the Office of Undergraduate Education (OUE) within the Rutgers–New Brunswick chancellor’s office be rescoped to encompass academic advising, career preparation, and academic support, as well as address academic issues that cut across schools.

      This rescoping should focus on specific campuswide resource gaps in professional development, technology management, policy coordination, assessment support, communication, and other essential areas, and should be supported by staff lines and infrastructure, using the 2019 Student Success Information Working Group Report as an initial guiding reference. The resulting structure should allow for centralized coordination and resourcing for the implementation of the recommendations described above, while respecting the differences in missions, cultures, and practices across schools.

  • Rutgers–New Brunswick, like our peers, collects ever-increasing volumes of data, particularly regarding our students. Pre-enrollment data, the comprehensive records of enrolled students, and post-graduation and alumni data all contribute to a detailed record of future, current, and past students. Our abiding challenge, however, is to overcome barriers to Rutgers’ ability to effectively use these vast stores of data to better understand our students and improve their educational experience.

    Key Recommendations
    • Recommendation 7.1. We recommend that core institutional data be centrally managed and organized to ensure individual business area data is both clearly delineated and readily shareable where appropriate.

    • Recommendation 7.3. We recommend that Rutgers–New Brunswick clearly delineate the meaning and purpose of external and internal institutional reporting, and prioritize efforts to build an easily accessible, robust, flexible internal reporting library to inform strategic planning, institutional initiatives, program development, and institutional self-assessment at the central, chancellor-led, school, and department and unit levels.

    • Recommendation 7.11. We strongly recommend that Rutgers commit the time and resources to carefully design and implement a well-defined, multi-layered, interconnected data governance model that includes both structure and process, outlining clearly defined roles and responsibilities for both the individuals (positions, not individual people) and groups included in the overall data ecosystem, from the chief executive who is responsible for the strategic direction of the university and the senior administrators who oversee each of the business areas, to the functional leads who manage the day-to-day of these business areas, down through the chancellor-led, school, and departmental users who are largely responsible for inputting institutional data and best placed to ensure both its accuracy and its application.

  • The Rutgers–New Brunswick student experience exists within and is influenced by the larger institutional context of business and administrative services (referred to in this chapter as “Central Services”) and living, learning, and supportive spaces (the “Physical Environment”). Though these factors do not lie entirely within the purview of Discovery Advantage, several workstreams analyzed some of the ways these procedural and physical infrastructures affect our students, identified several areas of concern, and made the recommendations provided herein.

    Key Recommendations
    • Recommendation 8.1. Rutgers must ensure that all stages of the planning process for new software or business processes, including the choice of an appropriate software package or business program, should include many stakeholders, including faculty and staff content experts, end users, and the IT groups that will support them. (Adopted from the Technological Solutions for Student Success Report, 2023.)

    • Recommendation 8.3. New system integrations must include a transition period during which the new system runs “in parallel” with the existing system and processes for at least one business cycle prior to full use of the new system. End-users and IT support must be consulted during this transition. Systems must not be fully implemented until they are operating efficiently, and users are fully trained.

    • Recommendation 8.6. We recommend that Rutgers–New Brunswick invest in facilities and infrastructure enhancements to support the Discovery Advantage goals and recommendations and to advance campus life for all our student populations, including the creation of neighborhoods and support for learning communities.

Key Appendices

Creating an Exceptional Experience

Rutgers–New Brunswick continues to examine many other issues that impact the undergraduate experience as part of Academic Master Plan initiatives such as such as ScarletWell, 15+ to Finish, and many more.