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APLU Names University of North Carolina at Charlotte 2019 Degree Completion Award Winner

November 10, 2019

San Diego, CA – The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) today named the University of North Carolina at Charlotte the winner of its 2019 Degree Completion Award during a ceremony at its annual meeting, now underway in San Diego, California. The annual award works to identify, recognize, and reward institutions that employ innovative and evidence-based approaches to improve degree completion while ensuring educational quality.

APLU President Peter McPherson will visit UNC Charlotte to highlight its degree completion efforts and celebrate the school’s role as a national leader in developing innovative programs to increase retention and graduation.

“We applaud UNC Charlotte for their exemplary work to advance student success, equity, and degree completion,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “Perhaps most important of all, UNC Charlotte has implemented a continuous improvement process to build on these gains. Their investment in student-centered transformation has produced sizeable gains across all student subgroups in retention and graduation rates. We’re thrilled to spotlight their work so other institutions can learn from it.”

The Degree Completion Award is one part of APLU’s robust work to advance college access, equity, and completion. UNC Charlotte is one of 130 institutions working in the association’s Powered by Publics effort, which convenes collaborating institutions within 16 transformation clusters working to solve different pieces of the student success puzzle. Collectively, the schools have pledged to aim to increase college access, eliminate the achievement gap, and award hundreds of thousands more degrees by 2025.

In 2011, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte launched a three-pronged approach to improving student success through its 49er Graduation Initiative. The effort engages students as active agents in their own success, proactively advises at-risk students and advances policies that optimize students’ path to graduation. Though the university’s Prospect for Success curriculum, more than 90 percent of incoming first-time college students take a first-semester academic engagement class centered on building their commitment to success, developing critical thinking skills, and enhancing their cultural awareness.

UNC Charlotte also systematically uses technology to identify emerging indicators of academic risk and then proactively connects students with advisors to help them get back on the path to timely graduation. Finally, the university has created a graduation metrics platform to help departments and colleges identify common curricular barriers to completion and address them on an ongoing basis. This process led to changes to prerequisite sequences that to remove unnecessary hurdles, changes to semester schedules to offer critical courses to maintain students’ academic progress year-round, and improvements to course content and faculty advising.

The wide-ranging approach to student-centered reform has helped increase the six-year graduation rate by 10 percentage points since 2009 and increase the four-year graduation rate by 17 percentage points over the same period – to 43 percent for the 2015 cohort. Now UNC Charlotte is focused on using a continuous improvement framework to build on these gains by focusing on the development of increased alignment between academic and financial planning for students and particular focus on eliminating remaining achievement gaps between student subgroups.

The Degree Completion Award is open to all APLU members. A panel of reviewers examined the applications to determine the finalists. The other finalists for the 2019 Degree Completion Award were: the University of Central Florida and the University of Rhode Island.

Past winners of the APLU Degree Completion Award and previous iterations of the honor are: Wayne State University (2018); University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (2017); 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 (2013).

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