low-income graduates

How research universities are pulverizing low graduation rates

Research universities beating graduation rate expectations as foundations double down on alliance.

An “innovation alliance” founded two years ago is now on track to graduate almost 100,000 additional students on top of the national average within the next decade. And perhaps even more innovative, the Alliance’s research universities have also increased the proportion of degrees awarded to low-income students by three percentage points.

The University Innovation Alliance (UIA)—a national consortium of 11 large public research universities spanning the geographic, economic and social diversity of the U.S.—announced an additional $3.85 million in new funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, and USA Funds to support its work to improve college completion rates.

“This additional support highlights the philanthropic community’s enthusiasm for effective collaboration among colleges and universities to share and scale student success innovation,” said UIA Vice Chair and Georgia State University President Mark Becker.

Founded in 2014, the UIA is a collaboration is committed to four objectives: producing more graduates, graduating more students across the socioeconomic spectrum, sharing data, and innovating together. Thanks in part to the increased focus on these issues at UIA campuses, member institutions are already experiencing improvements in student outcomes.

Proving Success through Collaboration and Innovative Tech

Although estimates suggest the nation will face a shortage of five million college graduates by 2020, college enrollment numbers are declining, explains the UIA. In 2014, the group set a public goal to graduate an additional 68,000 students over the next decade. According to an updated forecast, UIA members are now on track to graduate nearly 100,000 additional students during that time.

Since its inception, UIA says its members have also increased the proportion of degrees awarded to low-income students by three percentage points, while decreasing the gap in graduation rates between low-income students and their more affluent peers.

The Ohio State University, University of Central Florida, Arizona State University, Iowa State University, Oregon State University and Purdue University have each increased the number of low-income graduates by more than 19 percent.

“This growth reflects the commitment of our campus leaders to graduate more students across the socioeconomic spectrum, setting a powerful example for others,” said Bridget Burns, UIA executive director. “When the power of predictive analytics and other best practices are implemented broadly across Alliance campuses, we expect the gains to be even greater. 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.”

According to the Alliance, its success is rooted in its collaborative approach to accelerate student success and innovation among campuses that might typically compete in other areas; for example, last year, Alliance members focused on replicating predictive analytics initiatives that use big data to identify and support at-risk students.

(Next page: New research via the Alliance)

“Collaboration through the Alliance represents a force multiplier in our efforts to increase completion rates,” said UIA Chair and Arizona State University President Michael Crow. “Big data enable us to understand what works and apply the experience of our peers so that we don’t have to experiment alone.”

The UIA has already fostered successful innovations among campuses. Programs replicated through the work of the Alliance include:

  • University of California, Riverside redesigned its summer bridge program, based on lessons learned from the University of Texas at Austin bridge program;
  • University of Central Florida replicated Georgia State’s Panther Retention Grant, which provides funds to students who are close to graduating, but might be otherwise deterred by outstanding fees; and
  • Michigan State University is revamping its communication strategies to improve student success borrowed from Georgia State.

New Research in the Pipeline

The group is also advancing new research in the broader higher education community. This past fall, Georgia State led the UIA to win an $8.9 million U.S. Department of Education First in the World grant to start a 10,000-student random control trial to evaluate the impact of data-driven strategies that support first-generation college students.

With the latest investment, the UIA has been awarded $18.45 million in total funds, including support from the the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, the Markle Foundation, USA Funds, and the U.S. Department of Education.

The 11 members of the Alliance include: Arizona State University Georgia State University Iowa State University Michigan State University Oregon State University Purdue University The Ohio State University University of California, Riverside University of Central Florida University of Kansas University of Texas at Austin.

For more information about the Alliance, visit www.theUIA.org.

(Material from a press release was used in this report)

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