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APLU Announces Winners of Inaugural Project Degree Completion MVP Award

November 12, 2013

Georgia State University, Florida International University, and San Francisco State University Honored for Taking Great Strides Toward Increased Graduation Rates as Part of ‘Project Degree Completion’

November 12, 2013--As part of its ongoing effort to increase degree completion rates, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) today announced Georgia State University, Florida International University and San Francisco State University as the inaugural winners of the Most Visible Progress (MVP) National Degree Completion Awards during a ceremony at the organization’s 126th annual meeting.  The honors are designed to both reward the efforts of those universities for successfully retaining and graduating students while promoting those schools as models for other institutions to follow.  The new awards also serve to further enhance APLU’s ‘Project Degree Completion’ -- a joint effort with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) to achieve a national goal of having 60 percent of U.S. adults possesses a bachelor’s degree by 2025.

“Our member institutions recognize the need to identify the best ways to increase degree completion in order to truly make a difference in the lives of students and the country overall.  Georgia State University, Florida International University San Francisco State University, and many other public institutions are making great strides in educating our future generations and will publicly detail how they are achieving their strong retention and degree completion success,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “Universities are undertaking this degree completion initiative from different starting

points, which is why it is important to acknowledge both schools that are leading the way toward higher completion rates for all students as well as institutions that are showing progress toward higher retention and completion rates for targeted groups of students, especially those students who come from low-income and underrepresented backgrounds.  The forthcoming web database and printed publication accompanying the awards will allow universities to work as a community and learn best practices from one another in order to reach the goals of the ‘Project Degree Completion’ initiative.”

Georgia State University won the MVP Trailblazer Award for its exceptional progress with increasing retention toward or completion of a bachelor’s degree during the last three years.  Eighty percent of Georgia State’s total undergraduate population are first generation, Pell eligible, non-white, or have unmet financial need. Ten years ago, Georgia State’s institutional graduation rate stood at 30.5 percent, and underserved populations were foundering.  One by one, the university mined the data to locate the most significant obstructions to student success and then piloted interventions, ran data, refined the programs, and scaled them up. Programs implemented by Georgia State include retention grants; an overhauled academic advising system, expanded supplemental instruction, and a summer program for at-risk freshman. Georgia State’s institutional graduation rate has risen 22.6 points in the past 10 years (to 53 percent in 2013). Rates are up 28 points for African Americans (to 55 percent), 41 points for African American males (to 59 percent), and 41 points for Latinos (to 66 percent). Pell students are as successful as non-Pell students. The total number of degrees conferred annually has increased by 65 percent, and Georgia State now leads the nation among nonprofit universities in bachelor’s degrees conferred to African Americans.

Florida International University and San Francisco State University both won the MVP Opportunity Award, recognizing exceptional progress with increasing retention toward or successful completion of a bachelor’s degree for historically underrepresented and underserved students during the last three years.

The target population of FIU 87 percent of which are underrepresented student populations.  FIU students between the first-year and the major experienced a “Bermuda Triangle” in which many students were lost. In 2009, among students who dropped out, 75 percent had never formally intended a major. At the end of fall semester 2009, when FIU began to address seriously the problem of on-time graduation, over 5,900 students (21 percent of active undergraduates) had earned more than 60 credits but were not yet admitted to a major. As a result, FIU launched Graduation Success Initiative (GSI).  This included multiple steps, including transitioning to an all-professional-advisor model with individualized advisors for each student.  The university also implemented My_eAdvisor, a tracking tool that allows students and advisors to monitor academic progress.  They also identified alternative paths to graduation for students with interest in majors that have limited access or where students fail to meet the standards to be admitted.  FIU’s data-based practices produced a dramatic increase in FTIC on-time graduation, improving 6.3 percentage points in one year, from 41.0 percent for the 2005–2011 FTIC Cohort to 47.3 percent for the 2006–2012 FTIC Cohorts. The practices continue to elevate on-time graduation for the next cohort. For the current 2007–2013 FTIC Cohort, 49.7 percent have graduated, with the registrar still posting graduates from the summer commencement. The GSI practices have produced a 9 percent increase in the FTIC on-time graduation rate, from historical low to historical high, in just two years.

The target student population for San Francisco State University’s degree completion initiative are those who are from low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented backgrounds who are first-time, full-time freshmen (FTF).  Fifty-one percent of FTF arrive to college needing remediation. Institutional data for 2012 show that 47 percent of first-time freshmen receive Pell grants, 60 percent are on financial aid, and 31 percent are first generation, with both parents having no college experience. As a result, SF State established Metro Academies (Metro), which is a redesign of the first two years of college that has sharply raised retention and graduation rates among students who are low income, first generation, or underrepresented. This design gives students a personalized educational home for their critical first two years, when most attrition occurs. This redesign implemented a variety of measures, including targeted outreach, highly structured general education course pathway, sequenced curriculum design, and structured faculty development and collaboration.  Metro students are retained at a 19 percent higher rate into their fourth year than all SF State FTF. Metro students are also 9.7 percentage points more likely than SF State students to graduate in four years. Using student course completion data for the Metro cohort graduating in spring 2014, SF State projects that Metro students’ five-year graduation rates will be 29 percentage points greater than for SF State FTF overall.

The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities was a finalist for the MVP Trailblazer Award for its Undergraduate Student Success Initiative, which is a comprehensive university-wide effort to improve the retention and timely graduation.  Through improved academic advising, peer mentoring and community building for students along with improved financial support, the Twin Cities campus has retention rates at their highest level in the past decade. One-year retention was 91 percent, up nearly 12 percentage points in a decade. The most significant retention gains have been among students of color, who make up over18 percent of the undergraduate student population on the Twin Cities campus.

“We are very pleased to see so many of our institutions taking concrete steps to improve retention and graduation rates,” said John Michael Lee, Vice President, Office for Access and Success.  “Each submission for the MVP Awards is a testament to the serious commitment 500 universities took when they signed the ‘Project Degree Completion’ initiative.  These winning institutions are great examples of the public university community’s pledge to improve retention, completion, and inclusion in higher education.”

As part of an effort to help other public institutions strengthen their own degree completion efforts, APLU today released a new report at its annual meeting, “High Tech, High Touch: Campus-Based Strategies for Student Success.” The report collectively describes the lessons learned from all MVP Award applicant institutions and profiles the efforts at individual institutions. 

‘Project Degree Completion’ is an commitment signed by nearly 500 four-year public colleges and universities, to collectively increase the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the U.S. from an estimated 14.6 million to 18.4 million by 2025 for a total of 3.8 million additional degrees. Additional information on ‘Project Degree Completion’ can be found here.

All of the winners were presented with a sculpture at APLU’s annual meeting and a $20,000 prize to be used to further advance the institution’s degree completion initiatives.  The Most Visible Progress National Degree Completion Award is made possible through the generous support of the APLU Office of Access and Success Advisory Board. The purpose of the OAS Advisory Board is to provide support to strengthen the capacity of the APLU Office of Access and Success to meet its goal to ensure that all students succeed in college. Corporate sponsors for the awards include Educational Testing Services, Enterprise Holdings, Geico, Monsanto, the Siemens Foundation, and USA Funds.

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