The annual Project Degree Completion Award is open to all APLU members. A panel of seven judges reviewed the applications and determined the finalists. The award winner will be announced and all finalists will be recognized at the APLU Annual Meeting, November 12-14, in Washington, DC. APLU will promote the winning institution’s degree completion efforts among its membership and with external audiences. Additionally, APLU President Peter McPherson will visit the winning campus to meet with university leaders, students, and external stakeholders to celebrate the school’s role as a national leader in developing innovation programs to increase retention and graduation.
“Completing a college education is more crucial than ever before,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “The United States needs to vastly increase the number of college graduate workers to retain its position as the world’s leading economy. As institutions whose mission is to advance the public good, public universities have the responsibility to educate more graduates with the leadership, critical thinking, and technical skills that will enable them to make vital contributions to the country. This year’s Project Degree Completion Award finalists have achieved exceptional progress in student retention and graduation. We’re delighted to recognize their accomplishments and promulgate the reforms that led to that progress.”
- Boise State University created a Freshman Success Task Force in 2004 to improve retention and degree completion. The task force’s 2005 recommendations led to overhaul of the core mathematics curricula, redesign of remedial English and placement exams for English composition courses, and the creation of a Learning Assistant Program to support students in targeted courses. By 2015, these campus efforts helped increase overall retention by 15 percentage points, with increases of 21 percentage points for underrepresented students and 13 percentage points for Pell-eligible students. Over the same period, the university-wide graduation rate increased by 10 percentage points.
- Colorado State University made advances in degree completion through its Plan for Excellence: Enhancing Undergraduate Education and Student Success. A comprehensive plan designed to benefit all students from matriculation to completion, the initiatives include structured first-year experiences that focus on low-income, minority, and less academically prepared students that have helped raise participating students’ graduation rates by 10 percent. For participating students with characteristics that place them at an increased risk of attrition, graduation rates are as much as 44 percent higher than for non-participants. Other key components of the initiatives include increased student participation in supplemental learning programs, increased student-faculty interaction, and the implementation of active learning programs. Altogether, the initiatives led to a 4 percent increase in retention and a 7 percent increase in the four-year graduation rate for first-time students.
- The University of Hawaii at Manoa created the Student Engagement, Retention, and Graduation plan to coordinate a university-wide effort to raise retention and graduation rates. The holistic approach included an initiative monitoring students’ academic progress; providing early registration for transfer students so they can enroll in and fulfill prerequisite coursework; additional support to students who are struggling; bolstered student-faculty mentorship; and mandatory academic advising for students with undeclared majors (who are at higher risk of dropping out). Over a decade, the reforms contributed to a remarkable 13.7 percentage-point increase in the four-year, university-wide graduation rate.
- The University of Texas at Austin implemented a comprehensive set of programs to significantly increase student retention and graduation rates, especially for those in underserved populations. These student success initiatives included the use of predictive analytics to identify students most likely to be underprepared for the rigors of college, redesigning orientation to emphasize academics and belonging, and placing all incoming first-year students in small communities to help them better integrate academically, developmentally, and socially. An enhanced “progress to degree” tool tracks students’ progress toward completing their coursework in four years and alerts advisors if they are off track. The Graduation Help Desk assists students with administrative barriers to timely graduation, including course availability and scheduling conflicts. The University Leadership Network was also created to address the non-academic barriers at-risk students face by providing incentive-based scholarships alongside professional development and internship programming. Over a four-year period, the University of Texas at Austin’s four-year graduation rate climbed more than 10 percent.
- Western Michigan University increased college access, retention, and graduation among students who grew up in the state’s foster care system. This initiative, known as the Seita Scholars Program, provides students with experience in foster care a “campus coach” to help integrate their foster care experience as they transition into and through college; significant additional financial aid; and on-campus housing to ensure they have a place to stay year round, including during semester breaks. With 112 graduates and counting, the Seita Scholars program aims to narrow, then eliminate, the achievement gap between students who grew up in the foster care system and the broader population of first-time students. The program helped drive an eight fold increase in enrollment among Michigan foster youth; narrowed the retention gap between foster youth and the general student body; and raised the six-year graduation rate for foster youth to 29 percent, which is considerably higher than the estimated 5 percent nationally of young people from foster care who complete a bachelor’s degree within six years.
The award is part of Project Degree Completion — a joint initiative that APLU and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities developed in which nearly 500 public colleges and universities have pledged to collectively award 3.8 million more degrees by 2025.Past winners of the award (known as the APLU MVP Trailblazer and Opportunity Awards until 2015) are: University of California, Riverside (2016); Morgan State University (2015); University of Tennessee, Knoxville (2014); Florida State University (2014); Georgia State University (2013); San Francisco State University