Skip Navigation
University of Wisconsin Madison
Powered by Publics

Julia Michaels
Executive Director
Center for Public
University Transformation
(202) 478-6071

Media Contact:
Mike Brost
Assistant Director
of Public Affairs
(202) 478-6038

Cluster Work

Through Powered by Publics, each cluster is focused on solving different pieces of the student success puzzle as public universities work together to tear down long-standing barriers, eliminate the achievement gap, prepare students to thrive in the 21st century workforce, and collectively increase the number of degrees they award. Below is a high-level overview of what each cluster is working on, falling within the three overarching thematic areas of affordability, holistic student supports, and teaching and learning. You can view the institutions in each cluster here. Read a recap of the 2019 APLU Powered by Publics Design Challenge, which took place on November 9 in San Diego.

Cluster 1: Western Coalition
Focus Area: The First Two Years: Access, Entry, and Support into the University

The Western Coalition is focusing on supporting student success in the first two years, from initial student recruitment through completion of introductory courses. The cluster is exploring two strands of work: faculty development to support student success and mitigating or eliminating administrative processes that are barriers to student success.

Read the learning memo outlining some of the Western Coalition's work. 

Cluster 2: Western Land-grant Cluster
Focus Area: Teaching and Learning for Student Success

The Western Land-grant Cluster is focusing on improving teaching and learning by supporting faculty to become more effective teachers. In addition to pedagogy, the cluster is also identifying practices for streamlining degree programs and exploring more effective methods for course delivery such as adaptive learning, which tracks student learning and adjusts to students’ needs through personalized instruction. 

Read the learning memo outlining some of the Western Land-grant Cluster's work. View a video of the Western Land-grant Cluster's work using Curricular Analytics tool to analyze degree programs for factors that delay student progression and completion.

Cluster 3: Southern Central Cluster
Focus Area: Meeting Student Financial Need

The Southern Central Cluster is focusing on meeting student financial needs by developing strategic communication. The group is working toward developing strategies to increase understanding of the value of, and investment in, college. Additionally, the cluster is working on bolstering student and family financial literacy resources, including increased awareness and engagement by faculty and staff.

Cluster 4: Southern Cluster
Focus Area: Achievement Gaps

The Southern Cluster is focusing on specific student populations to close the achievement gap. The group has formed three subcommittees centered on the categories of affordability, student belonging, and academic support, which are working to develop best practices and success measures for specific subpopulations in these areas.

Cluster 5: Southern Central Cluster
Focus Area: The Transfer Student Experience

The Southern Central Cluster is focused on improving the transfer student experience, reducing the time to degree, and increasing student success. The cluster is working to identify and address the factors that can slow or even prevent degree completion.

Cluster 6: Urban Cluster
Focus Area: Financial Aid Solutions and Reducing Time to Degree

The Urban Cluster is aiming to collaboratively spur innovation at institutions by identifying and implementing equitable practices that promote college affordability, improve financial aid practices and policies, and shorten time to degree.

Read the learning memo outlining some of the Urban Cluster's work. 

Cluster 7: Metropolitan Cluster 
Focus Area: Achieving Equitable Student Outcomes through Evidence Improvement

The Metropolitan Cluster is aiming to achieve equitable student outcomes in urban universities by improving the evidence base around integrated and coordinated campus services, intrusive and proactive advising, financial literacy, and student mentoring.

Read the learning memo outlining some of the Metropolitan Cluster's work.

Cluster 8: Big Ten Academic Alliance Cluster
Focus Area: Retention and Persistence; Achievement Gap 
The Big Ten Academic Alliance Cluster is examining course data and the practices and policies affecting success rates in entry-level courses. The cluster is comparing disaggregated data on success rates of grades of D or F or students withdrawing from the course entirely, with an emphasis on closing achievement gaps for student populations. The group is also examining institutional policies and practices that have potential impact on student success.

Cluster 9: Eastern Cluster 
Focus Areas: First-Generation Achievement Gap and the Male Achievement Gap 

The Eastern Cluster is focusing on examining the barriers to student success for both first-generation students and male students. The group is also developing strategies to improve interventions and initiatives to support the success of these students.

Cluster 10: Evidence Improvement Cluster
Focus Area: Evidence Improvement: The Entry Year

The Evidence Improvement Cluster is focusing on developing and validating a framework for assessing, testing, and implementing evidence-based practices in advising and first-year communities to increase student success in the entry year. This framework will include new protocols institutions can use to test and evaluate the progress, complexities, successes, and failures of their own student success initiatives.

Read the learning memo outlining some of the Evidence Improvement Cluster's work. 

Cluster 11: High Pell Cluster
Focus Area: Developing data-informed approaches to increasing achievement and success of under-resourced students.

The High Pell Cluster is focusing on student financial wellness and affordable learning materials, through communication and collaboration. The cluster is assessing campus programs and services in these areas, identifying successful programs and policies, and promoting the implementation of best practices strengthening institutions’ ability to serve under-resourced students.

Cluster 12: Tech Cluster
Focus Area: Holistic Advising 

The Tech Cluster is focusing on holistic advising methods and how institutions can incorporate them into current advising models. The group is working to address the needs of the changing student population through varied strategies to help them feel welcomed at the institution, provide resources in order to improve their performance if needed, and address any personal issues that may be hindering their academic progress.

Cluster 13: Data Integration Cluster 
Focus Area: Data Integration for Student Success

The Data Integration Cluster is focusing on leveraging data to support student success initiatives. The cluster shares a desire to enhance existing data processes and platforms to improve the use of data in decision-making and data literacy at their institutions and has developed a data maturity matrix to help institutions better understand and improve their data infrastructure on campus. 

Read the learning memo outlining some of the Data Integration Cluster's work.

Cluster 14: Northern Cluster 
Focus Area: Affordability and Financial Aid Audits

The Northern Cluster is focusing on addressing affordability through both the student and campus perspective. The group has identified three factors influencing affordability on their campuses and formed three working groups around them. The cluster has also developed a document to guide considerations of affordability during strategic planning efforts among campus leadership.

Project Highlights

  • 130 change-ready universities and state systems
  • 16 transformation clusters
  • 3 million undergraduates

Project Goals

  • Produce hundreds of thousands more graduates by 2025 with an emphasis on underrepresented minority, low-income, and first-generation students.
  • Cut in half the achievement gap by 2025 for underrepresented minority, low-income, and first-generation students while increasing access.
  • Share key data, learning, and effective practices to drive innovation and transformation across the higher education sector.


Four strategic priorities guide Powered by Publics work. They are:

  1. Taking explicit action to pursue educational equity for low-income, first-generation, and students of color.
  2. Committing to transparency by sharing data and monitoring progress toward equity goals.
  3. Developing common opportunities for cross-cluster learning, sharing, and collective action in the thematic areas of Affordability, Holistic Student Supports, and Teaching & Learning.
  4. APLU and its partners committing to invest in institutional capacity through grants and technical assistance.