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APLU Announces 2020 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 named California State University, Sacramento, Kent State University, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison as finalists for its 2020 Degree Completion Award. The annual award works to identify, recognize, and reward institutions that employ innovative approaches to improve degree completion while ensuring educational quality.

The annual Degree Completion Award is open to all APLU members. A panel of reviewers examined the applications to determine the finalists. The award winner will be announced at the APLU Annual Meeting, November 9-11, which will be held virtually.

“Public universities have been working hard on an array of multidimensional interventions to increase degree completion,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “California State University, Sacramento, Kent State University, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have put in place innovative approaches that are helping ensure more of their students graduate. We’re thrilled to spotlight them as this year’s Degree Completion Award finalists, which have made critical strides in boosting completion and changing more students’ lives.”

The Degree Completion Award is one part of APLU’s robust work to advance college access, equity, and completion. The award complements the association’s Powered by Publics effort, which convenes APLU member institutions collaborating 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.

More details on the Degree Completion Award finalists’ efforts are below.

California State University, Sacramento
California State University, Sacramento has taken a multipronged approach to boosting student success. In 2016, Sacramento State launched an institution-wide commitment aimed at transforming the campus culture. The effort included: a finish-in-four campaign for first-time students and a through-in-two campaign for transfer students; the use of enhanced data and technology to drive student success efforts; and focusing on improving leading indicators of student success. The efforts have helped yield significant increases in the graduation rate since 2016, with the four-year rate increasing by 12.9 percentage points. Over the same period, the graduation rate for Hispanic students has more than doubled and the rate for African American students has more than tripled. Similarly, for transfer students, the two-year graduation rate has increased by 18.6 percentage points.

Kent State University
Kent State University has implemented a variety of interventions to boost student success and degree completion. The university implemented a Students First campaign comprised of bolstered first-year experiences, a 15-to-finish campaign, mandatory academic advising, and review of and intervention with high rates of students earning grades of D or F or withdrawing. The efforts have helped increase the six-year graduation rate by 6.6 percentage points to 62.6 percent. The four-year graduation rate, meanwhile, has jumped 16.9 percentage points to 50.8 percent. Gains are particularly strong among historically underserved students. For students of color who are first-generation students with high financial needs, graduation rates increased 127 percent.

Northern Arizona University
Northern Arizona University (NAU) has led a multidimensional effort to boost student success, with a particular emphasis on helping first-generation students reach the finish line with a degree in hand. In 2014, the university created the Office of First-Generation Programs to oversee multiple efforts to minimize barriers for these students and champion a cultural transformation throughout the institution. NAU also introduced a university-wide student success and predictive analytics platform and coordinated efforts to support just-in-time outreach that address student needs. The university’s overall four-year degree completion rate has increased by 12 percentage points while its six-year graduation rate has increased 7.2 percentage points. Coupled with its efforts to increase enrollment with increased percentages of historically underserved populations, NAU has increased the number of bachelors’ degrees they award annually by over 1,500.

University of Wisconsin-Madison
The University of Wisconsin-Madison has implemented a host of reforms to boost student success. In 2014, the university launched a degree completion working group charged with shortening time to degree, increasing the graduation rate, and closing equity gaps. Informed by the working group’s suggestions, UW-Madison worked to: improve academic and career advising, implement enhanced communication about completing a degree in four years, address policy barriers to student success, increase financial aid, and improve instruction through the introduction of active learning approaches and changes to courses with high rates of students earning Ds or Fs or dropping the class altogether. Time to degree decreased to less than four calendar years in 2019 and 2020. Since 2010, six-year graduation rates have risen from 84 percent to 88.5 percent. The four-year graduation rate, meanwhile, has increased from 54 percent to 71.2 percent. Gains have been particularly pronounced among students of color and Pell recipients, with the four-year rate climbing 25 and 27 percentage points, respectively.

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