How A Culture Of Innovation On Campus Can Solve The College Graduation Gap
This post was written by our friends at forbes.com
The value of a college degree now faces unprecedented skepticism among the general public. A survey out last month by Public Agenda found, for example, that despite strong evidence to the contrary, only 42% of those questioned say a college degree is necessary for success, a 13% drop from 2009.
This belief is driven at least in part by rising costs. With many state legislatures balancing their budgets by reducing support for public higher education, colleges have raised tuition to make up the difference – leaving today’s graduates with higher deb levels than those from previous generations. For the 40% of students who don’t graduate within six years (and are at high risk of not graduating at all), debt seems less like an investment than an albatross – a reminder of a dream deferred.
And whose dreams are most often deferred? The numbers are clear: While 68% of white and Asian high school students from families in the highest income quartile earn a bachelor’s degree, only 13% of black and Hispanic students from the lowest income quartile do so. This gap in college graduation perpetuates stubborn societal problems: economic inequality, skills gaps, low and stagnant wages, and more.
Yet despite public skepticism, we live in an era in which a postsecondary credential is essential for social and economic mobility. As a result, higher education’s democratic promise demands – perhaps more than ever — that we eliminate the graduation gap. This is a big task in a sector that has historically been resistant to change, but we are seeing progress.
Two years ago, we made a counterintuitive – and significant – investment in the potential for colleges and universities to change the way they approach the college completion crisis. We believed that the need for faster progress could inspire collaboration among 11 public research universities prone to competition. We knew that there were pockets of innovation on each campus. Individually, they were making progress. We hoped that by sharing their experiences through the University Innovation Alliance, they could accelerate the pace of innovation, identifying and scaling initiatives that could raise graduation rates and eliminate graduation gaps.
As it turns out, two of these universities – Georgia State University and the University of California, Riverside – have already eliminated race and income as a predictor of outcomes. All are sharing what they’ve learned to help each other eliminate barriers that keep students from graduating.
There is a belief in higher education that collaboration slows down progress because of bureaucracy, conflicting goals, or other innovation killers. The University Innovation Alliance (UIA) is turning this assumption on its head. By sharing their experiences, its members are taking good ideas from one campus and transplanting them to other campuses, advising each other on how to avoid past mistakes. They have found that showcasing another campus’s success actually generates buy-in from their own colleagues and allows a new idea to be adopted more smoothly.
Georgia State’s success was rooted in the use of predictive analytics and the application of big data to identify and advise students at risk of going off track. In its first year, six of its peers launched predictive analytics on their campuses. This fall, the UIA is rolling out a 10,000-student random control trial across 11 campuses to understand how first generation college students are affected by proactive advising.
As they share what works, UIA members are getting some overarching things right that can inspire other higher education institutions focused on college completion and innovation.
First, the UIA set a big, public goal – to graduate an additional 68,000 students over the next ten years, at least half from under-represented backgrounds. Together, alliance members are now on track to exceed that goal by 26,000 additional graduates. By setting public goals and transparently sharing data, the members are modeling the focus, ambition, and accountability that we desperately need from America’s colleges and universities.
Second, the alliance is focused on improving equity in graduation rates on a large scale. UIA members are geographically diverse and each enrolls between 20,000 and 80,000 students. Their size is important. While every effort to graduate more students from low-income families is commendable, we won’t reach the scale of progress our nation needs until the large public universities that serve the bulk of lower-income students in America commit to graduating millions more under-represented students.
Third, the model relies upon cross-functional student success teams with a direct line to the university CEO at each campus. This seeds a culture of innovation across campus to aggressively improve student success empowered by the president or chancellor.
Fourth, the UIA is not a closed circuit. The 11 members have welcomed dozens of observer institutions and aren’t shy about sharing their experiences at public forums and in the media. Members see their mission as building a movement and are compelled to help others accelerate innovation and dramatically improve student success throughout higher education. They have no interest in being proprietary or secretive about what they learn and do.
We are encouraged by the progress the UIA has made in its first two years, and we are proud to support its work, which is beginning to receive national recognition from publications such as The Washington Monthly. But these are just 11 universities. There is tremendous untapped potential across thousands of other colleges and universities to find new ways to help students from low-income and underrepresented backgrounds graduate at much higher rates. There is ample opportunity for philanthropy, policymakers, and campus leaders to accelerate change, and extend its reach.
By increasing large-scale, collaborative efforts to achieve more equitable outcomes in higher education, we can reaffirm the value of a college degree and give more people access to all the opportunities it brings.
Last Updated July 24, 2018