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APLU & USU Report Details How Institutional Change Can Drive Low-income and Underrepresented Student Success

Washington, D.C.—The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) today released a report examining institutional innovations undertaken at seven public urban research universities aimed at improving student success, including graduation rates, among low-income and underrepresented college students. The universities participated in the first phase of an APLU and USU-led initiative called Collaborating for Change that is helping universities implement and scale a series of transformations to admit, retain, educate, and graduate more high-need, traditionally at-risk students while reducing costs, re-examining campus business models, and fostering mutually beneficial campus-community engagement.

The report, Revolutionizing the Role of the University, explores the processes of institutional change these schools undertook during the first phase. For two years, each of the seven institutions planned and started implementing select practices to better align institutional practice and support with student access and degree completion. The new APLU/USU report provides an overview of such reforms to inform other institutions’ efforts.

Even though institutional change projects across the seven varied in reach and scope, each university shared a common purpose: to understand, improve, and scale student success. Collaboration across and within the seven universities was key to the project’s success. Cross-institutional cooperation was facilitated through a variety of forums such as small working groups, informal meetings, and webinars.

“Public urban research universities play a central role in providing accessible and affordable higher education, especially to our nation’s low-income and historically underserved students,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “The reforms underway are a testament to these institutions’ commitment to expanding access and improving student success. Even as state and local funding cuts have presented unprecedented challenges in recent years, urban public research universities have redoubled their pledge to increase access, affordability, and success. In fact, these institutions are adopting institutional change precisely because they face strained state support and feel an urgent responsibility to improve underserved students’ outcomes.”

“We’re excited about what we’re learning about the change process in higher education,” said Shari Garmise, Vice President of APLU’s Office of Urban Initiatives and the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities. “It must be student-centered, collaborative and inclusive in design, embedded and accountable to the community and all stakeholders, and absolutely relentless in its commitment and its execution.”

The report highlights seven participating institutions’ reforms to enhance student success.

  • California State University, Fresno developed a coordinated initiative that included K-12 curricular development and a communications campaign to boost awareness of post-secondary education and college aspirations of students in its region.
  • Florida International University used data analytics to identify courses that hamper student degree completion and then transformed advising and pedagogical techniques to boost student success in high-failure gateway courses.
  • Georgia State University streamlined its course scheduling tools and strengthened its financial counseling to reduce the incidence of two forces that often sidetrack progress toward a degree.
  • Portland State University crowdsourced faculty, student, and staff perspectives to generate innovations like flexible degrees and accelerated learning to transfer and adult students. Its institutional change strategy includes curricular innovation, community engagement, and the use of technology.
  • Temple University broadened student access through the expansion of student-success measures to include students whose academic performance isn’t reflected in standardized test scores. By developing an alternative admissions procedure that emphasizes motivational and developmental characteristics, it established a new avenue for students to demonstrate their potential as well as a new holistic institutional understanding of student preparedness.
  • The University of Akron mapped out a foundation for course redesign empowering faculty to tailor their coursework to students, allowing more personalized learning that’s more responsive to student needs. The university also piloted competency-based certificates, including one such certificate aimed at increasing fluency among first responders in the region.
  • At the University of Illinois at Chicago, insufficient ties to the community stood in the way of the dissemination of college readiness resources to underserved students. By formalizing partnerships with the university and community-based organizations, the university bolstered its outreach efforts and increased awareness among students who stand to benefit most from a college education.

Florida International University, Georgia State University, and Portland State University are participating in the implementation phase over the next four years while helping the APLU and USU member institutions learn from their efforts. Collaborating for Change will continue to support such efforts and evaluate their efficacy. After successful approaches have been identified, Collaborating for Change will further profile successful institutional blueprints for change and begin a campaign to replicate and scale such approaches.

Collaborating for Change 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.

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