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APLU Announces 2023 Degree Completion Award Finalists

Washington, DC – As part of its ongoing efforts to support public research universities’ efforts to increase degree completion, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) today named Boise State University, Florida International University, Kent State University, and the University of California, San Diego as finalists for its 2023 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 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 12-14 in Seattle, Washington.

“Congratulations to this year’s Degree Completion Award finalists,” said APLU President Mark Becker. “Public research universities have made important strides in increasing student success over the past several decades. We’re thrilled to highlight the progress of institutions that are leading the way in identifying and addressing barriers to student success and share strategies that have improved outcomes for students and their families.”

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

Boise State University
In 2005, Boise State’s Freshman Success Task Force identified early academic success as the best predictor of first-year retention. The university found that poor early academic success in early math classes in particular was a key predictor of subsequent student success: nearly half of incoming freshmen took such courses and more than half of them failed. The impact was even greater for underrepresented minority students. To address these challenges, Boise State’s Math Learning Center implemented several innovations that nearly doubled pass rates in early math classes and contributed to increased retention and graduation over the next decade and a half. During the same period, Boise State’s retention and graduation rates have increased substantially, from seven or more percentage points below peers to now exceeding peers: first-year retention increased 17 percentage points, the four-year graduation rate quintupled, and the six-year graduation rate doubled. 

Florida International University
Florida International University (FIU) has made critical strides in increasing retention and graduation rates through a variety of efforts to boost student success. Over the past five years, FIU increased the four-year graduation rate of its first-time in college students by 25 percentage points and its six-year graduation rate for these students by 10 percentage points.  FIU achieved these gains in part through the establishment and continued investment in a central student success office, which leverages the strengths of having a coordinated central vision and strategy, while working with individual colleges and schools to implement initiatives to best serve their unique student population. 

Kent State University
Over the last decade, Kent State University has taken several actions to address barriers that impede student success. Guided by institutional data, Kent State’s leadership developed a targeted strategy to boost retention and graduation rates while addressing equity gaps in student success outcomes. The university created one key initiative, the Summer Advantage Program, to assist students in staying on track for timely graduation by completing 30 credit hours each year and providing financial assistance and holistic support to students during the summer session. The results were exceptional. Ninety-eight percent of the 2017 students who participated in the Summer Advantage Program persisted to the fall semester and, to date, the six-year graduation rate for these students is over 80 percent. Overall, Kent State reduced the time to graduation by 0.23 years between 2010 and 2017 for first-year, full-time cohorts, with the largest decreases in time to degree among racially minoritized students (0.37 years), first-generation students (0.25 years) and Pell Grant recipients (0.21 years).

University of California, San Diego
The University of California, San Diego mutually reinforcing student success efforts have yielded significant improvements in student graduation rates and equity gaps. Guided by the UC San Diego Strategic Plan, the university reformed curriculum to reduce major and general education requirements. Additionally, the university’s teaching and learning commons – which provides programs advancing teaching excellence and student success – led the use of supplemental instruction to reduce the rates of students earning grades of D, F, or withdrawing from courses while closing equity gaps.  The Office of Student Retention and Success launched Student Success Coaching to build study and leadership skills for students from under-resourced K-12 schools, which further helped improve time to degree and reduce equity gaps. Between 2009 and 2018, four-year graduation rates improved by more than 15 percentage points from 58.3 percent to 73.6 percent; meanwhile, gaps between the average graduation rate and that of underrepresented students narrowed. 

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