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. The annual Project Degree Completion Award includes a $15,000 prize given to the winning institution to magnify the results of its efforts. APLU manages the award and the competition is open to all APLU members. A panel of seven judges reviewed the applications and determined the finalists. The final award recipient will be announced and all finalists will be recognized at the APLU Annual Meeting, November 13-15, in Austin, Texas.
“Entering college and pursuing a degree is more important than ever before,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “But the critical importance of completing a degree is too often overlooked. Raising degree completion rates remains key to achieving our national goal of 60 percent of adult Americans holding a bachelor’s degree by 2025. Meeting that goal will require increasing not only the number of students entering college, but just as important, the number graduating. The 2016 Project Degree Completion Award finalists have made great strides in improving student retention and degree completion – and we’re thrilled to share their experiences so other institutions can replicate their approaches and results.”
- California State University, Fresno launched the Graduation Rate Initiative, which included year-specific initiatives such as learning communities, success messaging, and department plans for at-risk students to improve degree completion and student success. Since the program began in 2009, it has achieved an increase in six-year graduation rates by 10 percent for first-time, full-time freshmen while nearly halving achievement gaps between underrepresented minority students and their peers.
- Cleveland State University made advances in degree completion through its CSU Student Success Plan. By providing detailed semester-by-semester degree maps when students arrive at Cleveland State, the institution ensures students know the courses they will need to complete to graduate in a timely manner. Other key components of the program include summer programming for incoming freshmen who are at risk academically, multi-term registration, and the establishment of the expectation (supported by tuition policies) that full-time students take at least 15-credit loads to graduate in four years. Altogether, the initiatives led to a six percent increase in six-year graduation rates among first-time, full-time students.
- Montana State University created the Freshman 15 program to give students more guidance throughout their college career. The holistic approach included a careful redesign of gateway courses that often trip students up, web-based advising and course scheduling tools, as well as a rebranded program to encourage students to take at least 15 credits a semester. The reforms contributed to an increased share of students taking at least 15 credits a semester, a two-month decline in the average time to degree, and a 4 percent increase in the four-year graduation rate.
- The University of California, Riverside’s Graduation Rate Task Force has made remarkable progress in degree completion rates. The task force at UC Riverside has worked to reengineer introductory mathematics curriculum to help more students succeed even in rigorous courses. What’s more, the task force has implemented advising tools aimed at students who are at risk of stopping progress toward their degree or, worse, dropping out of college altogether. All told, the suite of initiatives has boosted the four-year graduation rate by 7 percent and the five-year graduation rate by 11 percent since the task force was launched in 2013.
- Wayne State University, for its part, has transformed its student success culture under the institution’s Undergraduate Success Initiatives — a set of ten mutually reinforcing programs that address a variety of aspects affecting degree completion. Components of the initiative include a bolstered commitment to academic advising, an advising alert system, comprehensive monitoring of student progress, financial literacy education, and a community college transfer program. The initiative yielded a 9-percent increase in Wayne State University’s graduation rate.
Past winners of the award (known as the APLU MVP Trailblazer and Opportunity Awards until 2015) are: Morgan State University (2015); University of Tennessee, Knoxville (2014); Florida State University (2014); Georgia State University (2013); San Francisco State University (2013); and Florida International University (2013).
APLU undertakes a variety of initiatives through Project Degree Completion to support student success and spur degree completion at public colleges and universities. Initiatives include Collaborating for Change, an APLU-led coalition of urban research universities that aims to boost degree completion among traditionally at-risk students through disruptive university programs. Another initiative, the Personalized Learning Consortium, employs technology such as adaptive courseware to accelerate and improve student learning by addressing the skills and needs of individual learners.