News & Media

Executive Director’s Note

By Julia Michaels

Over the coming weeks, your universities will recognize the achievements of students who have overcome obstacles to complete their studies with a degree in hand. This is always an exceptionally busy time on campus and the pandemic has only added to its complexity. Yet for all the challenges this year’s (virtual or in-person) commencement ceremonies present, they also serve as an important reminder of why we do the work we do.

When Powered by Publics launched over two years ago, we committed to collective efforts to advance equity and increase student success. We envisioned we would work together intensively for five years, with data collection through 2025. We are now approaching the project’s halfway point. Although we’ve accomplished a great deal as a network, we know that we don’t have all the answers. The need for ongoing, deep collaboration is clear: changing student populations, an unstable environment, a shifting policy landscape, and – let’s face it – never enough money or time. These challenges won’t be solved overnight.

Our work won’t be done in five years; in some sense, it won’t ever be “done.” We must always continue to work to serve students in new ways that address barriers to their success. The approach we are testing with Powered by Publics is intended to create space for public universities to co-design their own future together.

Powered by Publics is doing exactly that through its network. Institutions are embracing complexity while at the same time testing small changes that will begin chipping away massive, shared challenges that hamper equity, student success, and degree completion. As Desmond Tutu once said, “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”

So, too, with student success. To take just a sampling of Powered by Publics institutions are using this approach, they are:

  • Examining student transfer efficiency. Five universities in North Carolina are studying the impact of credit awarded to community college students upon entry and as well as graduation; the relationship between retention, persistence, and graduation rates; as well as data on success across institutions to identify promising practices. Upon completion of the study, we will disseminate findings across the Powered by Publics community.
  • Cultivating equity-focused faculty. The Western Coalition cluster is hosting an equity-focused faculty learning community at the end of May. Stay tuned for results from this important effort.
  • Advancing financial wellness. The High Pell cluster conducted a survey on financial wellness. We will be releasing the survey soon, as well as accompanying resources that outline key questions to guide institutions in implementing financial wellness programming.

Though this is just a fraction of the work underway through Powered by Publics, much more remains to be done. As we recognize the achievements of students earning their diplomas, we also commit to ensuring more students have the opportunity – and support – to complete a college education.

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