Susan Hagstrom, Director of Undergraduate Advising in the College of Environmental Design, discovered that data can be a tool when she needed answers to big questions that would garner resources for her students. Learn more about how she leveraged data, with the help of Cal Answers, to provide context to make a case for change.

Mining the Data

By Susan Hagstrom

When I first started in CED I created a very simple student demographic snapshot, with help from people I knew who had access to institutional data. What I learned was eye-opening.  It turned out that CED was home to the highest percentage of first generation and low-income students of any of Berkeley’s undergraduate schools.  

A couple of years ago, Berkeley launched “Cal Answers” (a warehouse of student data available to all). This allowed us to easily see how our college population compared to the other colleges and to the campus as a whole on a number of demographic factors.  It also prompted us to ask more questions about the student experience, based on what the data was telling us.  We learned that not only was our college home to the highest percentage of first gen and low-income students, but that we were home to the highest percentage of historically underrepresented minority students.

We realized we needed to get a better handle on costs associated with studio classes so we created a studio expenses inventory, with help from our students. We discovered that our College has the highest percentage of Pell Grant recipients AND one of the most expensive programs in terms of materials and supplies. We were putting our students in an impossible situation.

Our advising team began proactively identifying financial barriers and brainstorming ways to remove/reduce them. What we did:

  • Made financial aid budget appeal materials easily accessible to all (on the web, in our major handbooks)
  • Created a computer lab and fabrication shop fee waiver program for our Pell/Dream recipients.
  • Created an in-house materials store to sell supplies more conveniently, with a percentage of profit going into the fee waiver program.
  • Approached financial aid about increasing the standard budget for students in studio courses.
  • Created a fundraising effort to help cover facility fees for our Pell recipients.
  • Started asking more specific questions in our Senior Exit Survey – how often did you skip meals to pay for studio supplies? How common was it for you to reduce the scope of your project to match your financial resources?

One of our next efforts will be to educate our faculty on our students’ socio-economic demographics to help them better understand the impact of their assignments and expectations. Now I want to hear your story.  Are you a data activist too?

Are you a Data Activist?

We want to hear your story! Send your ideas to advisingmatters@berkeley.edu

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