New alliance debuts to retain needy students


New alliance aims to bring colleges and universities to collaborate on best practices to retain low-income students

alliance-needy-studentAn alliance of 11 major colleges and universities debuted earlier this week in an effort to keep low-income and first-generation students in school long enough to receive a degree.

The alliance, which is about 15 months old, had its public rollout at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C.

And the problem it faces is acute: High-income students today are seven times more likely to earn a college degree than their low-income counterparts, and at the same time the U.S. economy is projected to have a shortage of 16 million college graduates by 2025. Higher-income students are maxed out; it’s the lower- and middle-income graduates that colleges need to keep the United States economically competitive.

The alliance aims to do something that is relatively unusual in higher education: Have colleges and universities accustomed to competing against one another collaborate instead, sharing ideas on how best to keep low-income students in school long enough to earn their degree.

(Next page: Successful strategies)

The successful strategies so far appear to include gathering extraordinary amounts of data and using it to track students as they go through school, stepping in when students appear to stumble. The strategies also include remodeling residence halls to create housing focused on studying and increasing access to college education through e-learning, or online education.

The alliance is backed by six national foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Lumina Foundation, that will pitch in a combined $5.6 million. The schools will match that.

Ohio State Senior Vice President and Provost Joseph Steinmetz said the university is already using analytics to assess students and determine if they’re struggling, intervening when necessary.

But it also has programs aimed at recruiting low-income students years before they enter college as well as programs that match OSU students with faculty mentors who can help guide them through the college process.

OSU joins Arizona State, Georgia State, Iowa State, Michigan State, Oregon State, Purdue, the University of California-Riverside, the University of Central Florida, the University of Kansas and the University of Texas at Austin. Combined, the schools have 378,489 undergraduates and award 79,584 bachelor degrees a year.

Their goal is to determine how best to attract and retain low-income and minority students and share their methods so all can meet President Barack Obama’s goal of being first in the world in college-degree attainment. Currently, the United States isn’t even in the top 10.

Steinmetz said one of the goals he’d like the university to meet is attracting more low-income students and graduating them in a timely manner. “We’re providing access to a major research university for those that right now don’t have that access,” he said.

But he’d also like to track those students after graduation to see whether they’ve been successful in both their lives and their careers. The university recently enlisted the help of the polling firm Gallup to study OSU alumni and expects to have its first set of data in a few months.

Steinmetz said colleges and universities should not only consider graduation rates as a measure of excellence, they also should look at the number of low-income students, how many graduate within four years and college affordability.

“We should redefine in a lot of ways how we measure the excellence of the institution,” he said.

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