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The Academic Champions Experience (ACE-it) at the University of Idaho:
Academic Success - The Norm

Project Description

The University of Idaho has embarked on a project that will use the social norms approach to improve the academic performance of its students. This project is funded by a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE).

Goal and Objectives

The goal of the ACE-It program is to use the social norms approach to increase the 6-year college graduation rate. The objectives are to:

  • Improve the accuracy of students' perceptions of the frequency of their peers' engagement in academic success behaviors by 10%
  • Increase the frequency with which students engage in academic success behaviors by 10%
  • Increase the average semester GPA of students by 0.3 points, from 2.8 to 3.1
  • Increase the freshman-to-sophomore year retention rate by 7%, and
  • Increase the 6-year college graduation rate by 5%.

Preliminary Data

Preliminary data regarding the use of the Social Norms Model to increase graduation rates include: 1) results of two nationally administered surveys CIRP 2002 and the ACUHO-I /EBI 2002 in which the University of Idaho participates and 2) results from a custom survey designed to be a pilot instrument for the proposed ACE-it program. This pilot was administered in February through April 2002, to 230 students at the University of Idaho, Central Washington University, and Washington State University. The pilot is a precursor to the "Perception and Report of Academic Behaviors Survey" (PRABS) which will be developed for the ACE-it program. The results of all three surveys show that students misperceive their peer's academic ability and performance, and their concern for academic achievement.

This gap in perception between the actual behavior and the perceived behavior is one of the reasons that the social norms approach will be employed to increase academic performance. The data from CIRP 2002, ACUHO-I/EBI 2002 show nearly 71 percent of University of Idaho students and 75 percent of students nationally rated their own academic achievement and concern for academic achievement as being “extremely important” or “very important” or in the highest 10 percent when compared with the average person their age. By contrast, only 40 percent of University of Idaho residence hall students and 48 percent of residence hall students nationally rated their fellow residents in the top two categories either “extremely important” or “very important” or in the highest 10 percent regarding their academic achievement and concern for academic achievement. Similar to the situation with high-risk drinking where students’ actual drinking behavior is far healthier than perceived by peers, students’ actual frequency of engagement in academic success behaviors are far more positive and “healthy” than students perceive them to be. In short, students’ perception of their peers’ academic success behaviors is an inaccurate, potentially damaging misperception that can be effectively addressed and corrected by implementation of the social norms approach.


Students living in residence halls have been selected as the evaluation group for the
ACE-It program. However, many of the intervention strategies will be administered in such a way as to impact the entire student body, including those living off-campus and non-traditional students. Data will be collected and analyzed for these populations as well.

The implementation phase of the project includes three action items. They are: Assessment and Program Monitoring, Educational Academic Achievement, and a Social Norms Educational Campaign.

The Social Norm Educational Campaign will consist of a broad range of activities. Among those activities proposed, it will:

  • Publish messages that describe behaviors that lead to academic success (e.g., posters and classified ads)
  • Distribute pamphlets that highlight actual academic success behavior performance
  • Conduct an academic success behaviors educational message poster design competition with a cash prize
  • Annually develop eight posters with normative messages relating to positive academic performance
  • Distribute flyers promoting study skill improvement activities and academic support services around campus
  • Place table tents with normative messages in high traffic areas, and
  • Run regular normative PSA messages about positive academic performance on the university radio station.

For further information about this project, contact:

Michael Griffel
Director of University Residences
University of Idaho
PO Box 442010
Moscow, ID 83844-2010
(208) 885-6571

**Portions of the information presented on this page were originally prepared by Michael Haines and Richard Rice and are printed here with their permission.