“Public universities are working hard to substantially increase the number of students who don’t just enroll in college, but actually make it across the finish line and earn all the benefits a college education provides,” said APLU President McPherson. “To maintain our competitive edge, the United States needs to vastly increase the number of college-educated Americans in the coming years and decades. The University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa has made significant strides in student retention and graduation over the last decade. We’re thrilled to highlight their efforts so other institutions can draw lessons from their success.”
UHM’s Student Engagement, Retention, and Graduation effort to coordinate a university-wide effort to raise retention and graduation rates began a decade ago. To help raise graduation rates, UHM launched an online degree audit program in 2007 to help students track their academic progress. The degree audit program was spurred by research showing that students who understand their status in their academic career are more likely to succeed. The audit provides live feedback on students’ progress, facilitates communication between students and advisers, and helps forecast a graduation date based on a student’s completed work.
UHM also created early registration for transfer students so they can enroll in and fulfill prerequisite coursework that is key for timely graduation. Other components of the Student Engagement, Retention, and Graduation plan included 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).
The institution’s graduation rate has increased dramatically since the effort was launched. Over a decade, the reforms contributed to a remarkable 13.7 percentage-point increase in the four-year, university-wide graduation rate.
UHM is aiming to build on this progress. The institution implemented a new feature within its degree audit program to help students see the best course pathway to graduation. Using predicative analytics, UHM has also worked to identify students at risk of not returning for a second year and provided a scholarship if they re-enroll.
An independent panel of seven judges reviewed this year’s Project Degree Completion Award applications and voted the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa as the winner after a thorough review and interview process. The other finalists for the 2017 Project Degree Completion Award were: Boise State University; Colorado State University; the University of Texas at Austin; and Western Michigan University. APLU recently released a report examining trends in PDC Award applications over the past two years.
The award, which was open to all APLU member institutions, is designed to share innovative practices with other public universities and encourage other institutions to draw from those successes. It is one 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 pledged to collectively award 3.8 million more bachelor’s degrees between 2012 and 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.