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APLU Announces 2021 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 Florida Atlantic University, Florida State University, and the University of Illinois Chicago, as finalists for its 2021 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 outside reviewers examined the applications to determine the finalists. The award winner will be announced at the APLU Annual Meeting, November 15-17, which will be held virtually.

“Public universities have made progress in increasing college access, equity, and completion, but the need for faster and greater progress is clear,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “Florida Atlantic University, Florida State University, and University of Illinois Chicago serve as important examples of how public universities can implement effective institution-wide efforts to advance student success and completion. We congratulate our Degree Completion Award finalists on critical gains in student success they have enabled.”

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 broader student success work, including its Powered by Publics initiative, which convenes 125 APLU member institutions collaboratively working to tackle barriers to student success in the areas of affordability, teaching and learning, and holistic student supports. Collectively, the schools have pledged to aim to increase college access, cut the equity gap in half, and award hundreds of thousands more degrees by 2025.

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

Florida Atlantic University
Florida Atlantic University (FAU) has launched a comprehensive plan to address equity gaps, advance student success, and increase the university’s graduation rate. After taking an exhaustive look at student success outcomes, disaggregated across a variety of characteristics, FAU determined that far too many students were lacking adequate support in entry-level courses. To address this, FAU launched a cross-institutional analytics platform to help inform and track the effectiveness of student success interventions. These reforms included the adoption of standardized “flight plans” enabling students to easily see the optimal progression of courses to a degree, addressing course bottlenecks that were preventing students from graduating in a timely manner, and innovative financial assistance incentivizing students to register for the next semester. The multipronged approach contributed to FAU more than doubling its four-year graduation rate from just 19 percent in 2014 to nearly 48 percent in 2020. Crucially, gains have been largest among historically underserved groups, including Black, Latino, and Pell-eligible students.

Florida State University
After analyzing student success data, Florida State University set out to address equity gaps: students who entered in 2009 had a 62 percent graduation rate overall, but that rate was 53 percent for Black students and 58 percent for Pell-eligible students, with transfer students even further behind. FSU launched its Center for the Advancement of Teaching to support faculty as they redesigned courses around students’ needs and created more inclusive learning environments. They also founded a Learning Assistant Program in which undergraduates who have successfully completed courses are invited back to work in them, helping students learn the material. Additionally, FSU expanded first-year student engagement programs, invested in experiential learning, adopted new approaches to advising, and leveraged its longstanding CARE program, which supports first-generation college students from transition to college through graduation. Thanks to these multidimensional efforts, FSU achieved a record-high 74 percent four-year graduation rate last year while nearly eliminating gaps by race, ethnicity, and income level.

University of Illinois Chicago
With gains in student success and equity plateauing in 2012, the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) launched its Student Success Initiative. The initiative, informed by a comprehensive report with more than 125 recommendations, aimed to reverse slowing progress. After careful study of barriers to student success on campus, UIC invested in more robust first-year experiences; increased holistic student support and student success coaching; curriculum redesign and teaching reform; and financial support for students. Following the investment, UIC’s graduation rate steadily improved to an all-time high last year. The four-year graduation rate increased nearly 10 percentage points from 2015 to 2020. What’s more, the graduation rate for Black students has increased by nearly 14 percentage points and 10 percentage points for Latino and Pell-eligible students.

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