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University of Tennessee, Knoxville and Florida State University Win APLU’s Second Annual MVP Project Degree Completion Awards

Awards Honor their Efforts Toward Increased Retention & Graduation

As part of its ongoing effort to promote increasing degree completion rates, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) today announced the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT) and Florida State University (FSU) as the recipients of its second annual MVP Project Degree Completion Awards. The universities were each presented with a sculpture and a $20,000 prize to further advance degree completion initiatives on their respective campuses during a special ceremony at the 127th APLU Annual Meeting underway in Orlando, Florida.

“Our member institutions recognize that access — walking in the front door to college – is not the primary goal; it’s getting a complete education, learning to learn, and walking back out with a degree in hand ready to contribute to the world,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “The University of Tennessee, Knoxville and Florida State University have significantly advanced their goals to increase retention and degree completion success on their campuses and they’ve done it in their own way. APLU honors their accomplishments and will help share their efforts with other public universities so that these innovative approaches can be modeled and replicated elsewhere in order to reach the collective goals of the ‘Project Degree Completion’ initiative.”

The MVP Awards are part of a comprehensive, joint effort by APLU and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) to help achieve a national goal of 60 percent degree attainment among the U.S. working age population by 2025. Nearly 500 public universities have pledged to boost college completion as a part of the Project Degree Completion initiative. Additional information on ‘Project Degree Completion’ can be found here.

There are two different honors that comprise the MVP Awards. The MVP Project Degree Completion Trailblazer Award is presented to the APLU member institution that has made exceptional progress in increasing retention toward or completion of a bachelor’s degree for all students during the last three years. The MVP Project Degree Completion Opportunity Award goes to one APLU member institution that has made exceptional progress in increasing retention toward or successful completion of a bachelor’s degree for historically underrepresented and underserved students during the last three years. The scope of this initiative must impact all students on the campus in that specific category (e.g., all underrepresented minorities, all low-income students, all veterans, etc.).

Trailblazer Award: University of Tennessee, Knoxville

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville was awarded for focusing on improving graduation and retention rates. In January 2010, UT — the state’s flagship institution –was challenged by then-Governor Phil Bredesen to become a “Top 25 public research university.” UT responded by first comparing its performance to the nation’s leading public universities. The findings revealed that the ACT performance of its entering students was higher than the average of the Top 25 peer group; however, first-to-second year retention and six-year graduation rates lagged behind this same peer group by significant margins. These gaps triggered action by the institution and revitalized its commitment to improvement in the form of the Vol Vision/ Top 25 Undergraduate Education Plan.

UT developed a benchmarking methodology that compared itself to a peer group, which included the nation’s best public universities. The resulting gaps served as the basis for development of recommended strategies, including use of data and analysis to discover opportunities for both immediate and long-term improvement; identifying necessary investments needed; establishing an expectation for accountability, assessment, and continuous improvement; and surfacing opportunities for operational effectiveness. During the course of the plan’s implementation, efforts by multiple units of the university have aligned to accomplish the goal of increasing first-to-second year retention and the number of students that graduate from the university each year.

Opportunity Award: Florida State University

Florida State University was awarded for its work addressing the postsecondary education needs of veterans. The Florida State Veterans Campaign (FSVC) concept was brought to the university’s president by student veterans in the fall of 2010 and officially launched a year later. The concept was rooted in the recognition that current and former military personnel possess the talent, skills, and know how to have success as students and contribute to enhancement of the campus community.

The resulting initiative provides comprehensive support to Florida State University students who are veterans, veteran-dependents, active duty personnel, Reserve and National Guard members, and ROTC cadets. Some of the strategies included in the initiative focus on easing the transition to campus life with veteran-specific orientation sessions and first-semester courses; and being advocates to state and federal lawmakers on behalf of issues relevant to student veterans. Each approach is designed to more aptly connect students to the academic and social spaces of the university with the hopes of fostering student success.

In the fall of 2013 FSVC served a total of 372 undergraduate and graduate students: 274 student veterans using federal Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits and another 98 active (duty personnel or members of the National Guard or Reserve). The number of entering veterans who were retained into their second year averaged 98 percent over the past five years. As a result, the six year graduation rate for veterans has increased from 69 percent to 86 percent during that time.

The University of Arizona’s Schedule for Success Program (S4S) initiative was a finalist for the Trailblazer Award.

“This year’s pool of applicants were impressive and I know firsthand the level of difficulty involved by the selection committee in choosing the two winners,” said John Michael Lee, vice president for the Office of Access and Success at APLU. “Continuing the growth of the ‘Project Degree Completion’ will remain a top priority moving forward. The MVP Awards have gone a long way toward recognizing exemplary programs and models that increase retention and degree completion.”

The MVP National Degree Completion Awards is made possible through the generous support of the APLU Office of Access and Success (OAS) Advisory Board. Corporate sponsors for the awards include Educational Testing Services, Enterprise Holdings, Geico, Monsanto, the Siemens Foundation, and USA Funds.

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