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Portland State University
Shari Garmise, Ph.D.
Vice President,
USU/APLU Office of Urban Initiatives


Shannon Looney
Deputy Director

Lynn Brabender
Program Manager, Urban Initiatives

Andréa Rodriguez
Assistant Director, USU/APLU Office of Urban Initiatives

Christel Perkins, Ed.D.
Assistant Director, Coalition of Urban Serving Universities

Adrianne Thomas
Staff Associate,
USU/APLU Office of Urban Initiatives


Jennifer Danek, M.D.
Senior Director
USU Health Initiatives

University-Community Student Success Partnerships

Key Highlights

  • Provide grants to universities to help institutions tackle oft-overlooked barriers to student success.
  • The grants require recipient institutions to partner with external organizations in their community to address hurdles to success in the student experience. 
  • Collecting data on the impact of this work as it builds a playbook of effective community-university student success partnerships and sharing lessons.

USU's Collaborative Opportunity Grants work to advance student success, degree completion, and community transformation. Institutions awarded Collaborative Opportunity Grants undertake a variety of nascent reforms touching virtually every aspect of the student experience to establish the environment necessary for students to thrive. All Collaborative Opportunity Grants projects must align with at least one of five priority investment areas: strengthening the K‐16 pipeline; rethinking financial aid; engaging faculty; partnering with employers and workforce organizations; and leveraging community assets.

All projects in the Collaborative Opportunity Grant program must center on a collaboration between a public university and an external organization such as another university, community colleges, school districts or local governments.

Twelve institutions have been selected for Collaborative Opportunity Grants with work currently underway.

  • California State University, Fresno is creating a K-16 team to strengthen the pathway between the math taught in area high schools and the math taught at the university. By creating problem-solving labs in the university’s entry-level math, the institution can provide small-group support tailored to recent high school graduates now enrolled in entry-level math at Fresno.
  • California State University, Northridge is collaborating with the Canoga Park community through Bridge to the Future (B2F), an initiative aiming to improve area high school students’ enrollment, access to, and retention within the university. The initiative provides four-year, tuition-free education to a subset of Canoga Park students who, in exchange, will give back to their community through service learning opportunities provided through the program.
  • California State University, Los Angeles is partnering with East Los Angeles College to provide mentoring and other support services to students transferring into California State University, Los Angeles. The program uses a non-traditional, student-centric approach to identify practices the campus should put in place to foster greater success for transfer students. 
  • Cleveland State University is joining with College Now, a community organization to identify students who have left the university before completing their degree and help them re-enroll and finish their degree. The initiative provides assistance to these students by helping them resolve financial challenges so they can reenroll and also uses bolstered academic advising to keep them on track toward a degree.
  • Fort Valley State University is working with a host of external partners as the institution overhauls and expands its iHelp Center for Service and Volunteerism. Fort Valley State is making community service and volunteerism compulsory for all freshman to help improve student retention and success and address needs within the community.
  • Georgia State University is partnering with the Southern Education Foundation to examine the climate of social justice and its impact on students transitioning into the institution as well as for the student body as a whole.
  • University of California, Riverside is joining with the Community Foundation and the Riverside Unified School District to scale up community service, service-learning, community academic internships, and community-based research. The partnership also enables the university to facilitate student service learning, monitor community needs, and help develop capacity of partners to effect positive change.
  • San Jose State University is collaborating with two local high schools to expand their traditional summer school math courses and reduce remediation rates of incoming students. The initiative will include traditional math curriculum as well as college mentorship, an on-site visit to the university, family/parent workshops, and training for summer school math instructors by San Jose State University faculty.
  • University of Maryland, Baltimore County is working with Baltimore City Schools to create a kindergarten-to-college pipeline with the aim of enrolling and educating more students from the city by creating college access programs at area schools. The programs provide college admissions support, service-learning opportunities, as well as mentoring and advocacy.
  • The University of Memphis is partnering with West Tennessee Healthcare to help adult learners make faster progress toward earning their degree. The initiative uses credit-by-exam, adaptive learning, and experimental learning to eliminate the need for adult learners to fulfill coursework that they have already mastered.
  • University of South Alabama is joining with three area community colleges to streamline transfer processes and improve graduation rates at all collaborating institutions by, for example, redesigning college algebra and mapping processes that ease students’ transfer experience.
  • University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee is collaborating with the Milwaukee Public Schools to create a first-year seminar that simultaneously enrolls university freshman and seniors from the area high schools. The class will be taught by two professors and four high school teachers who will facilitate small-group discussions. The program will help area high school teachers teach cross-disciplinary literacy.

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