How a new university collaborative is destroying poor retention rates

By Andrew Barbour
April 6th, 2016


An 11-member alliance is improving retention rates among students by openly sharing solutions and working together on new ways to support at-risk students.

“When universities collaborate, students win” is the slogan of the University Innovation Alliance, a partnership of 11 major schools that hopes to reverse the nationwide decline in college enrollment and increase the number of graduates from across the socio-economic spectrum. Recent successes in retention rates suggest that the jingle may be more than slick marketing. At its launch in 2014, the UIA set a goal of graduating more than 68,000 additional students over the next decade. Now the group expects to graduate nearly 100,000 extra students in that time.

Even so, the UIA’s efforts will make only a small dent in the additional 5 million college graduates who will be needed in the U.S. by 2020, according to projections in a 2013 study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. But the UIA is hoping that other universities will adopt some of the group’s proven student-retention strategies and forge their own collaborative alliances to spur adoption of new initiatives.

“If all other four-year public colleges and universities in the U.S. increased their graduation rates at the UIA’s pace over the next decade, we would add 1.3 million college graduates to the workforce,” said Bridget Burns, executive director of UIA, whose members include Ohio State, Purdue, Arizona State, University of Central Florida, and Georgia State. “This is a matter of national urgency, but we have to address the way that we share ideas in higher education. At the moment, innovation just dribbles between institutions—it doesn’t even trickle.”

Indeed, a review of UIA’s gains in student-retention rates shows that collaboration has been the biggest factor in the group’s success, allowing universities to identify and replicate solutions from partner institutions in record time.

Burns points to predictive analytics as an example of a key initiative that gained rapid traction despite initial reluctance from campuses that had already tried solutions without much success. “At least two UIA campuses went from saying no to predictive analytics to a full-scale implementation in about 18 months,” said Burns. “In that time, they transferred 10 years of data, got their algorithms rolled out, and piloted the projects. Prior to UIA, it took campuses years to reach the same point. We’re seeing an acceleration, and the vehicle is these relationships and this collaborative approach.”

But anyone who’s worked in higher education knows that collaboration is sometimes easier said than done. Many universities are themselves divided into jealously guarded fiefdoms, so how has UIA managed to forge such productive relationships across 11 large institutions?

(Next page: How UIA universities collaborate to boost retention rates)

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