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APLU Announces 2015 Project Degree Completion Award Finalists

Middle Tennessee State University, Morgan State University, University at Buffalo, University of South Florida, & University of Texas at El Paso Recognized as 2015 Project Degree Completion Award Finalists

Washington, DC — As part of its ongoing efforts to increase degree completion, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) today announced Middle Tennessee State University, Morgan State University, the University at Buffalo, the University of South Florida, and the University of Texas at El Paso as finalists for its 2015 Project Degree Completion Award. The annual prize works to identify, recognize, and reward institutions that employ innovative approaches to improve retention and degree completion.

The award is 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 degrees by 2025. The annual Project Degree Completion Award includes a $15,000 prize given to the winning institution to magnify the results of its efforts. APLU manages the award and the competition is open to all APLU members. The final award recipient will be announced and all finalists will be recognized at the APLU Annual Meeting, November 15-17, in Indianapolis.

“Our member institutions recognize the importance of identifying the most effective strategies for boosting degree completion,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “Raising degree completion rates remains key to achieving our national goal of 60 percent of adult Americans holding a bachelor’s degree by 2025. Middle Tennessee State University, Morgan State University, the University of Buffalo, the University of South Florida, and the University of Texas El Paso have made great strides in improving student retention and degree completion. Their success reflects the crucial role public universities play in increasing the number of graduates prepared to shape the future economy and lead our country. Through this award process we will share these institutions’ innovative techniques to retain and graduate more students so that other universities can learn from them and adapt some of their ideas.”

Middle Tennessee State University was announced as a Degree Completion Award finalist for its Quest for Student Success initiative, which aims to improve student retention and graduation rates. The initiative offers enhanced academic advising, expanded tutoring offerings, and the implementation of more rigorous performance metrics. By directing resources toward students who are at risk of falling behind, the program has raised the persistence rate for first-time freshman to 91 percent. And persistence rates for part-time new transfer students improved by more than 10 percent under the program.

Morgan State University also made advances in student retention and degree completion. Its Student, Technology, and Retention initiative uses technology to help faculty identify students struggling with coursework and direct students to academic advisors who are equipped to assist students in resolving the issue. The university has raised its freshman retention rate to 76 percent in 2013 from 63 percent in 2006.

The University at Buffalo launched the Finish in Four program and the Student Success Initiative to give students more guidance throughout their entire college career. These initiatives couple intensive academic counseling with technology that lets students track their academic development and degree progress. Under the program, the average time students take to earn their degree dropped to 4.02 years from 4.22 over a four-year period. Degree completion has also improved, with the four-year graduation increasing to 52 percent for freshman who enrolled in 2010 compared with 45 percent for those who enrolled in 2006.

At the University of South Florida, the Student Success Task Force is also making remarkable progress in degree completion. Since 2001, the six-year graduation rate has increased 19 percent. Among other actions, the university-wide Student Success Task Force has revised coursework to clarify confusing subject matter, established the expectation that students enroll in at least 15 credit-hours per semester, and redoubled efforts to provide first-generation and low-income students the resources they need to succeed. In 2012, the one-year retention rate reached 90 percent. And crucially, the university has increased the six-year graduation for students receiving Pell Grants by 50 percent.

The University of Texas at El Paso, meanwhile, has reoriented its student success measure to place greater emphasis on degree completion. Using technology to identify where students encountered setbacks, the university’s Student Continuous Improvement Initiative determined that guiding seniors to graduation is critically important to raising degree completion rates. It then channeled academic resources to seniors to help them reach graduation day. The efforts contributed to a 26 percent increase in degrees awarded between 2007 and 2012.

“We are very pleased to see our institutions implementing new programs that produce considerable improvements in student retention and degree completion,” said RoSusan D. Bartee, APLU’s Interim Vice President of Access and Success. “The five finalists highlight the important work public universities are undertaking to advance educational attainment across the United States.”

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