Skip Navigation
Projects & Initiatives

Collaborating for Change

Collaborating for Change is a six-year student success initiative implemented by APLU and the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Collaborating for Change (CFC) is an initiative working to spur student success by driving transformational change at public urban research universities across the country. The initiative is led by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation among other partners.

CFC supports collaborative cohorts of institutions to plan and implement transformational, often disruptive, reforms to facilitate student success and boost degree completion. These transformations focus on recruiting, admitting, retaining, educating, and graduating high-need, traditionally at-risk students while reducing costs, re-examining campus business models, and fostering mutually beneficial campus-community engagements.

  • Why Public Urban Research Universities?

    As a whole, urban-serving institutions represent 68 percent of colleges and universities in the United States and serve 20 million students, making their campuses essential blueprints for other colleges and universities considering transformative change. Notably, these institutions advance innovations that align with their community-based missions and their students’ entire environment – recognizing that academic barriers to success are intimately linked with financial, geographic, and other socioeconomic challenges.

    What’s more, public urban research universities serve an outsized share of historically underserved populations such as low-income and minority students. CFC places particular emphasis on narrowing and ultimately eliminating achievement gaps by addressing challenges facing low-income, minority, and first-generation students. Such students represent a significant share of public urban universities’ student bodies and boosting their success is critical for narrowing achievement gaps nationally.

  • Transformation through Collaboration

    CFC works with a variety of both APLU and USU member institutions to pilot, refine, and scale pioneering practices for instruction, building K-16 pathways, and rethinking student aid. By working both within and across institutions, CFC provides a forum for schools to work together to address hurdles facing their students by employing innovative approaches. And crucially, collaboration across universities allows institutions to collectively examine challenges, exchange effective practices, and share lessons learned.

  • Advancing Student Success through Innovation

    Institutions participating in CFC undertake a variety of reforms touching virtually every aspect of the student experience to advance academic success and improve graduation rates. In an effort to improve student learning and life outcomes, these approaches aim to overhaul the way students progress through college. They include:

    • Aligning and strengthening K-16 pathways;
    • Adjusting instruction methods to help more students succeed in challenging “gateway courses”;
    • Bolstering faculty engagement with students and new instruction technologies;
    • Using student data to forecast then preempt barriers;
    • Rethinking financial aid to support students from access to completion; and
    • Partnering with employers and labor organizations to meet workforce needs.

    Completion Grants
    Unmet financial need remains a significant barrier to degree completion for many low-income students, especially those in their final year of college – when savings are often exhausted and traditional financial aid proves insufficient in covering students’ expenses. Nearly 15 percent of students with three-quarters of their required credits fulfilled leave college without degrees, often due to financial constraints.

    In an effort to ensure cash-strapped students with a proven record of academic success do not drop out due to financial need, institutions offer completion grants of a few hundred dollars to help students make tuition payments as they near graduation. With support from Lumina Foundation and Great Lakes Higher Education Guarantee Corporation, CFC is working to replicate this promising practice across a cohort of nine public universities. The goal is support these students and highlight the importance of new approaches to financial aid.

    Collaborative Opportunity Grants
    CFC’s Collaborative Opportunity Grant (COG) program is designed to support new or emerging innovations that transform institutional practices, programs, policies, and culture to improve student success. The project’s principal goals are to identify emerging innovative practices that improve student success while supporting collaboration between public universities and external organizations that lead to meaningful and sustained change. All projects in the COG program must be a collaboration between a public university and an external organization such as another university, community colleges, school districts or local governments.

    Transformational Planning Grant
    The Transformational Planning Grant (TPG) project was a two-year initiative under the aegis of CFC that supported a cohort of seven public urban research universities as they spent a year planning and designing new business models and innovative approaches to increase access, improve success rates, and discover greater cost efficiencies. The practices and findings that TPG discovered were shared with the more than 200 members of the APLU to help public universities better understand how to optimize the education they provide to their evolving student populations.

Related Projects & Initiatives


Follow USU on Twitter


Follow APLU on Twitter