“Public universities are undertaking extensive efforts to ensure that all students not only have access to higher education, but also complete their degrees and gain all the benefits that a degree confers,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “An informed citizenry and skilled workforce requires broad-based investment in higher education and bolstered efforts to increase degree completion. UC Riverside’s comprehensive approach to improving degree completion puts it at the leading edge of those efforts.”
The University of California, Riverside convened a Graduation Rate Task Force in 2013 to improve its degree completion rates. In the 2011-12 school year, the four-year graduation rate at UC Riverside was 42 percent and the six-year graduation rate stood at 66 percent.
The Task Force set an ambitious goal to improve four- and six-year graduation rates by 15 percent for the class of 2021 and outlined 37 recommendations to achieve that goal. The recommendations included institutionalizing enrollment modeling, revamping of the introductory mathematics curriculum and instruction, and providing increased access to courses over the summer. UC Riverside also developed new tools for advisors to address the needs of students at risk for non-completion and implemented a campus-wide finish-in-four campaign to raise awareness about the importance of finishing a degree in a timely manner.
The efforts to improve graduation rates yielded impressive results. Four-year graduation rates in 2015 reached 53 percent, and six-year graduation rates were 73 percent – up 11 percent and 7 percent, respectively, from four years earlier.
An independent panel of seven judges determined that UC Riverside was the winner after a thorough review and interview process. The other finalists for the 2016 Project Degree Completion Award were: California State University, Fresno; Cleveland State University; Montana State University; and Wayne State University.
The award, which is made possible through the generous support of the Lumina Foundation and was open to all APLU member institutions, is also 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 have 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: Morgan State University (2015); University of Tennessee, Knoxville (2014); Florida State University (2014); Georgia State University (2013); San Francisco State University (2013); and Florida International University (2013).