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Urban Universities Excel at Improving Student Retention and Degree Completion


Image Credit: John Walker

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) named four urban-serving institutions as finalists last week for the APLU 2016 Project Degree Completion Award: California State University, Fresno, Cleveland State University, the University of California, Riverside and Wayne State University. The competition identifies institutions that have made significant progress toward improving degree completion on their campuses, and rewards universities that have developed innovative practices for retaining students.

Although increasing the number of students who attend college is an important goal, degree completion is just as essential. Without a degree, students cannot reap the long-term benefits of their education such as advanced career opportunities and higher incomes. In addition, individuals with student debt but no degree are more likely to default on their loans.

APLU will recognize the finalists at the 2016 APLU Annual Meeting on November 13-15 in Austin, Texas. The winning institution will receive $15,000 to magnify the impact of its degree completion efforts.

So what are these institutions doing? Each has invested in systemic programs to ramp up student success, including:

  1. California State University, Fresno’s Graduation Rate Initiative, which uses year-specific interventions such as learning communities to improve degree completion. The university has increased its six-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time students by 10 percent since the program began in 2009.

  2. Cleveland State University’s CSU Student Success Plan provides students with detailed degree maps to help them navigate the courses they need to graduate on time. CSU has experienced a 6 percent increase in six-year graduation rates among first-time, full-time students.

  3. University of California, Riverside’s Graduation Rate Task Force has reengineered the university’s introductory mathematics courses to help more students succeed, and uses advising tools to target students at risk of stopping out or dropping out. UC Riverside has boosted its five-year graduation rate by 11 percent since the task force was launched in 2013.

  4. Wayne State University’s Undergraduate Success Initiatives, a set of 10 reinforcing programs, includes strategies to address advising, financial literacy, and community college transfer issues. The university’s graduation rate has increased 9 percent since the initiatives were launched.

How is your institution working to increase degree completion? What are some of the lessons learned that you could share with our USU coalition? Contribute to the discussion in the comments section below…


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