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News & Media

How APLU's College Completion Cluster Initiative Will Help Drive Student Success

April 6, 2018
By Julia Michaels


Growing numbers of underrepresented students on campus, national demographic shifts, and changing workforce demands, have provided a new set of challenges for post-secondary institutions tasked with ensuring student success. Public universities have an intense interest in increasing student retention and degree completion, both overall and among underrepresented students.

In response, APLU has launched the Center for Public University Transformation (CPUT) to address the challenges for college completion. The main work of the Center will be the APLU Transformation Cluster Initiative, which aims to catalyze transformational change across the higher education sector. Through this initiative, APLU will convene more than 100 public universities across the country, organized into “clusters” of eight to ten institutions, to collaborate on solutions for student success.

The transformation clusters have three main student success goals:

  1. Produce hundreds of thousands more degrees by 2025.
  2. Eliminate the achievement gap for low-income, minority, and first-generation students, while maintaining or expanding access to higher education for these students.
  3. Share key data within the clusters and promulgate proven practices across the entire public higher education sector.

Enrollment trends provide no doubt that the profile of students accessing higher education is changing. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, from 2000 to 2015, Hispanic student enrollment increased 126% percent. In 2016, almost 32% of students that enrolled in an undergraduate program had been awarded a Pell Grant, up from 24% in 2006. And an estimated 30% of entering freshman are first-generation college students.

As access to higher education continues to expand, there is a growing demand for colleges to focus on success and completion for their students.

Many institutions have implemented programs to improve completion and close the growing achievement gap and have reported significant success. However, there is a need for collaboration and information-sharing to create a national movement that will really move the needle on student success.

APLU Transformation Clusters will organize around a chosen topic area, shared institutional characteristics, or even within a state or region. Urban universities, for example, might choose to work with urban-serving peers who understand their unique challenges and specific student profile. After the clusters are identified, they will then work together to determine their specialized student success focus. Together, schools will develop, refine, and scale proven practices geared towards student success. Hopefully, these findings can be shared across clusters for truly transformational change.

Work to organize and identify the clusters is already well under way, and the hope is to have them organized and ready to begin within a year. Currently, conversations are being held with institutions across the country to gage interest and get a feel for some of the most widespread challenges and effective solutions.

National response and interest has been overwhelming, proving that these topics are a priority for institutions all over the country. There is an eagerness for collaboration, both to share success stories, as well as to get an influx of new ideas and learn from the successes of others.
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Julia Michaels is Director of the APLU Center for Public University Transformation.

  • Access & Diversity
  • Degree Completion & Student Success

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