University Innovation Alliance to Help Disadvantaged Students Graduate

University Innovation Alliance to Help Disadvantaged Students Graduate
  • Opening Intro -

    Enrolling in college does not mean that all students will graduate.

    Far from it. Indeed, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the graduation rate for first-time, full-time undergraduate students is just 59 percent.

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Helping underprivileged students finish college.

For lower income and other disadvantaged students, finishing college can be especially daunting: the drop out rate can easily top 60 percent at some schools.

University Innovation Alliance

While there is much handwringing over the problem, 11 public research universities across the country have decided to make a difference. The universities formed the University Innovation Alliance, an initiative to help effect change. Meeting in Washington, DC, on Tuesday the alliance was introduced to policy makers and education supporters, pledging to match the $5.75 million already raised for the initiative.

Alliance members include: Arizona State, Georgia State, Iowa State, Oregon State, Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue. Also included are: the University of California Riverside, the University of Central Florida, the University of Kansas and the University of Texas at Austin.

The alliance plans to go beyond the meetings and hearings that regularly have addressed retention and graduate rates, but so far have yielded very small results. The members plan to improve retention and graduation rates by the thousands with alliance members sharing data based on student demographics in a bid to aid each other.

The 11 universities enroll 20 percent of the students attending large public universities. At the same time these schools enroll a higher portion of financially challenged students with 33 percent receiving Pell grants compared to 25 percent within all schools under the public research university classification. The graduation rates at alliance schools range from just 51 percent to as high as 82 percent.

Universities Collaborate

Jonathan Wickert, Senior Vice President and Provost at Iowa State University, told the Iowa State Daily that the universities will work collaboratively instead of competitively to share their ideas and innovations. Said Wickert, “Instead of competing against one another, Iowa State and the other 10 schools have agreed to work together on something that fundamentally benefits students.”

College and universities have attempted a variety of approaches to help retain students. One method that has seen some success involves “predictive analysis,” what is used to gauge how students will most likely perform in their classes.

The University of Minnesota, although not a part of the alliance, measures incoming students by their “high school grades, test scores, financial backgrounds and other factors,” and compares that information with how past students performed to determine success potential. Those students believed to be the most at risk can then be given special assistance.

For the University of Minnesota, school leaders found that students who regularly attended the rec center were more likely to finish college. So, the college doubled the rec center’s size to accommodate more students. Graduation rates improved following that move.

Faculty to Student Contact

One factor that may help alliance members is to reconsider faculty to student contact as well as peer-to-peer contact. A number of large public universities, including those mentioned here, put students in some classes with hundreds of other students. In effect, the student is not known by the professor who may rely on several graduate students to offer assistance. Large classes can be difficult for at-risk students, especially those who would thrive best in a more intimate learning environment.

See AlsoFirst Year Seminars Aid Freshmen Students

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