Union Institute & University Supports Post-traditional and Distant Learner Success Through ACE Learner Success Lab

​​​​​​May 2022 

After persisting through a global pandemic that only exacerbated the need for evidence-based learner success strategies, participating institutions in the initial cohort of the ACE Learner Success Laboratory​ (LSL) are now wrapping up their work. Several of these LSL Cohort 1 participants are sharing their experiences and takeaways through the Lab Impact Profile series.

​Union Institute & University (UI&U) is a private university in Cincinnati, Ohio that specializes in distance learning. As institution programs are predominantly online and designed for degree completion, UI&U serves primarily post-traditional and adult learner populations.

In 2020, UI&U joined the LSL as a member of the inaugural cohort. UI&U sought to holistically examine the student journey, existing support structures, and how best to retain and support its learners. Through the Lab process, UI&U worked closely with ACE staff and expert Lab advisers to identify goals for their institution, craft recommendations for their university leadership, and measure outcomes from their efforts.​


​At the time of its application to the LSL, UI&U had recently consolidated administrative and student services from geographically disparate academic centers to a more centralized and hybrid model of program administration. This consolidation led to a review of student services and retention efforts to understand what would be most effective in this new organization. Additionally, the Student Retention and Success Committee (SRSC) had just been reconstituted. Participation in the LSL enabled UI&U to bring a distinct focus to the SRSC and conduct a review process of learner success initiatives in a comprehensive, intentional, and informed way.  

Specific initiatives that emerged from the LSL work were to: 

  • ​Enhance understanding of distinct student identity groups and expand services to address the nuanced needs of those group members
  • Focus on particular student profiles (for example, UI&U had recently noted an increase in students who identified as Hispanic; as that student population increased, the university wanted to know more about how its learner success initiatives met the needs of Hispanic students) 
  • Create individualized support within career services
  • Support faculty by providing data regularly as part of a robust continuous improvement process.


Through the Lab process, UI&U​ developed the following key recommendations to present to campus leadership: 

  • ​Develop an iterative assessment and feedback process supported by the creation of an accessible, centralized data repository to enable data-informed decision-making
  • Maintain regular internal and external communications related to learner success that clearly articulate the university’s value proposition and are visibly connected to the strategic plan
  • Engage in a learner-centric process of self-evaluation to inform and drive meaningful learner success
  • Establish an institutional committee on justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) external to the strategic planning process, but working within it to support organizational review and reflection through a JEDI lens
  • Embed student support services into academic programs and curriculum design and enhance career support services for all students


Diverse avenues of input and involvement from all members of the community is an intentional part of the Lab design process. Two key results from UI&U's LSL experience were the recommendations from committee work and the establishment of cross-functional relationships and avenues of communication. As an institution serving adult students at a distance with employees and students located across the country, opportunities to work across functional areas can be limi​ted. Using the ACE Model for Comprehensive Learner Success, the LSL gave UI&U a framework and touchpoints on which to build a collaborative process. 
As we navigated a new process, built relationships, and had frank discussions on what we were doing well and areas to improve, ACE—and particularly our ACE adviser—​helped us stay grounded in our mission, encouraged our desire to strengthen community through collaboration, and provided doable, concrete, recommendations to help take our institution forward."—Sarah Wallis, director of academic grants and projects, Union Institute & University


Although the UI&U's LSL committee eventually connected directly to the strategic planning process, it would have been useful to have connected the processes at the beginning of the Lab experience. Also, incorporating more change management and culture change approaches into UI&U’s process and committee work could have made things more efficient.   

UI&U also recommends that institutions considering—or preparing for—​participation in the ACE Learner Success Lab:  

  • ​Include as many members of the institution as possible throughout the process and hold community conversations on general topics of interest related to learner success
  • Build committees that include diverse functional areas of the institution across academics, teaching, learning, and administrative areas—diverse input leads to stronger recommendations and builds a more cohesive organizational culture
  • Take the time to focus on areas of learner success that are most relevant to your institution and resist the temptation to address everything all at once

The ACE Learner Success Lab

​The Learner Success Lab is an inclusive learning community that integrates evidence-based practices for persistence and completion, life design and career exploration, and workforce skills development to assist participating institutions in developing a comprehensive strategy for learner success.