Minnesota State Community and Technical College: Up2U + Up2Us = Student Success

Member Spotlight

Minnesota State Community and Technical College (M State) has announced an ambitious and exciting initiative that uses the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+) as a tool to identify student achievement. CLA+ is a performance-based assessment that measures critical thinking, complex reasoning, and written communication and mechanics.


Up2U is an incentive-based program that supports student learning, increases persistence and motivation, and advances achievement in degree completion. Students who participate in Up2U are driven to finish school on time and with a high level of academic achievement. The program name implies that the student is responsible for his or her academic accomplishments.

"Students are responsible for their own success," said Paul Carney, director of the Up2U program. "But we provide engaging, relevant learning opportunities to support their efforts."

Students are offered a scholarship—ranging from $500 to $5,000 a year—for maintaining a high level of academic standing, finishing their two- and four-year degrees on time, and for their performance on CLA+. The scholarship can be applied when the student transfers to one of the two current Up2U partner universities. By providing a financial incentive for students to stay on course and complete their degree on time, participation in Up2U increases persistence and reduces student debt.

Up2U uses CLA+ as a measurement of a student's aptitude in critical thinking, problem solving, analytic reasoning, and written communication. M State, four-year colleges, and employers consider these skills essential to succeed in the workplace. 

"This approach provides a reliable, authentic measurement of the general education skills that are taught and learned throughout a student's first two years at M State," Mr. Carney said.

After entering a partner four-year university, students must maintain positive academic standing and remain enrolled in a minimum number of classes in order to renew the scholarship. Students receive a checklist to ensure their courses meet program requirements.


Up2Us, the professional development branch of Up2U, provides support and training to faculty and staff. While Up2U provides academic support and incentives for students to finish college and succeed in the workplace, Up2Us cultivates collaboration between faculty and library staff as they develop their own performance tasks to better engage student learning. 

Through frequent, thoughtful, and continuous collaboration, faculty create discipline-specific tasks to assess students' critical-thinking and written-communication skills in their own classrooms. Faculty peer-review each other's work using three criteria. They consider whether the task addresses the student's breadth of knowledge, how clearly it is articulated, and how effectively it assesses the intended competencies. Instructors, then, deploy their original performance tasks in the classroom. The performance tasks challenge students to solve problems or propose solutions for realistic scenarios. 

Faculty have found that performance tasks align with their students' learning goals because they need to perform research; evaluate the credibility of the research; and synthesize, organize, and outline the information.

"The experience has revolutionized the way I think about learning and how I teach my students," said Roberta Freeman, speech/communication instructor at M State.

"The Up2Us faculty are enthusiastic and energized," said Katie Trombley, communications instructor at M State. "The program encourages students to use critical thinking, increases rigor in our courses, and increases the completion rate for M State's students."

Up2Us is unique in that it enables faculty to use the expertise of the library support staff while developing their own performance tasks. Librarian expertise in passage finding and document retrieval supports the faculty in the development of their tasks. 

"They found several key articles for my task," said Roberta Freeman. "Some of the information I knew would be hard to find, but they found it."

By enlisting faculty, students, and the college support services, Up2U and Up2Us elevate rigor and relevance for teaching and learning. Research demonstrates that performance tasks are the most authentic and realistic measurement of critical thinking skills.

"I am amazed by all of the skills I can assess in one assignment; that, perhaps, is one of the key reasons for using the CLA+ and performance tasks in our college classes," said Ms. Freeman.

"Preparing students is different from other assessment preparation that indirectly tells students that they can succeed if they memorize and regurgitate information," Ms. Trombley said. "Students and I engage in discussions that help them think critically about the information they read. Students learn how to analyze and evaluate evidence, which they use to support their position in a well-organized argument."

Enthusiasm for both Up2U (students) and Up2Us (professional development) remains high among faculty, staff, and administration. "This is my twentieth year of teaching at the college, and I don't think I've been this fired up about a new approach or assignment for a long time!" said Ms. Freeman.

"The Up2U program speaks to all of our external stakeholders while engaging faculty, students, and staff in the challenging and exciting process of building critical thinking and communication skills," noted Dr. Jill Abbott, M State's Associate Vice President of Academics.

M State is interested in replicating this Up2U/Up2Us model with other two and four-year schools. For additional information or to partner with M State, contact Paul Carney, Up2U director and English professor.