But first, an idea of what awaits the UIA. It is becoming (more) public with a goal it quietly adopted at the end of 2019: to reduce disparities in academic performance based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, family income and university attendance history. This is the key. Producing more graduates by opening the top of the funnel is a big deal, especially in a national higher education environment where selectivity is still often equated with excellence. Showing other institutions the culture change needed to close the gaps would be an even more notable achievement.
I just want the group to publicly set digital markers, or attach dates to this new goal, to make it easier to track their progress.
On the numbers: In its announcement, the alliance said 55% of additional graduates were low-income students and 60% were from under-represented minority groups. But from the published data, it’s hard to say how much of the increase is due to simply admitting more of these students – I know that’s not a little ‘fair’ – or (also) of close the success gaps. And how many of the 11 were primarily responsible for the gains?
Bridget Burns, the group’s executive director, told me that posting aggregate data is not about “shaming” members, it’s about fostering collaboration. “They have joined a collective effort,” she said, “and they share a collective goal.”
What Burns shared with me, however, offers some clues. A graph, with institutional names redacted, shows disparities in graduation rates for low-income students that range from less than two percentage points at one institution to 9.5 percentage points in another (or potentially higher in a couple where this stat is omitted). Obviously, some institutions have a long way to go.
Another chart compares aggregate data on graduates from 2012-13, the year before the alliance began its work, with 2019-20, the latest year available. These two snapshots show a notable increase in the proportion of graduates from under-represented minority groups (to 27% versus 19%), but only a slight increase in the proportion of graduates from low-income backgrounds (to 30% versus 28%). %). The total number of graduates increased by 26 percent.
When the UIA first appeared, Kim Wilcox, Chancellor of the University of California at Riverside, told me that an institution’s successes don’t necessarily translate easily, and even failures will be instructive for them. group members.
This week, when I asked Wilcox what he thought of the patchy progress, he doubled down on that idea. “All of these differences allow us to explore the issues,” he said. If all institutions had improved at the same rate, “we would not have learned so much”. Despite Spin, there is probably something to this.
As for the courses: After seven years, the UIA has a lot to share. He provided some takeaways in this paper, which, among other points, notes how the experiences of member institutions in administering completion grants prepared them for the distribution of Covid-19 relief funds.
I also recommend a straightforward feature opinion piece by Burns in The Hechinger report which describes how the group reacted when changes in leadership in many of its member institutions dampened the momentum of the projects. He now identifies two high-profile co-champions for the work on each campus, Burns wrote, so if one moves forward, “the other can continue without wasting a moment.”
To my disappointment, many UIA projects are not formally and publicly evaluated by third parties, but his consultancy work was. The alliance also uses a proprietary third-party assessment to create public documents like this Handbook on Completion Grant Administration and another, expected this summer, on supporting college-to-career transition for students. The work of four doctoral students on UIA projects will also be published shortly.
Where funding allows, Burns told me, the alliance tries to produce public analysis, but they believe other forms of dissemination may be more effective: blog posts, streaming conference sessions, Podcast Innovating together reflect that. To get people’s attention, she said, “the anecdotes and stories are much more interesting.”
A few other points that struck me during my conversations with Burns and with Wilcox:
- Context really matters. “You really can’t just copy and paste an intervention from one campus to another,” Burns put it. Case in point: In a project testing new approaches to counseling, one institution realized that it would meet less resistance if it called student outreach “coaching” rather than “counseling” because, like Burns explained, “On this campus, professors are counselors, and that’s part of who they are.
- Who leads the effort is also very important. These leaders must have the confidence of their quorum presidents and colleagues on campus. Otherwise, Burns said, it can be hard to tell if a new idea didn’t fly because the approach was flawed or just because “people didn’t want to come to this meeting” with the person in charge. And as Wilcox noted, the departure of a few presidents has actually led to more progress in their institutions. Sometimes the successors, he said, are “more committed than the originals.” (Sorry, he didn’t want to name names.)
- Personal relationships make a big difference. Certainly, higher education has more than enough associations where college leaders can chat with their colleagues. But Wilcox said being in the UIA gives member presidents – not to mention registrars, financial aid directors and other campus officials – specific reasons to interact with each other, fostering closer bonds and more sharing of ideas (not to mention many times for burns twitter selfies). These relationships, along with the ability for institutions like Riverside to have an additional “benchmarking set” beyond the unified communications system, translate into better results.
Since 2014, the UIA has received nearly $ 26 million in philanthropic support (including over $ 11 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) and an additional $ 8.9 million from a federal grant. This month, he announced two new members: North Carolina A&T State University, the largest public HBCU in the country, and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.
Looking ahead, I asked Wilcox what is most vital in addressing educational disparities. He named three things: developing more connections with K-12 systems, to facilitate academic and social transitions for students from high school to college; create welcoming campus environments; and provide the financial aid that many (more) students will need.
Looking back, I couldn’t help but think back to that White House Opportunity Summit of 2014 – and the hundreds of promises colleges and other educational organizations did that day to improve access and success in higher education. I don’t really have the space to review all of them, but if anyone else is willing to try and systematically measure what has resulted from these promises, I’ll gladly share it in a future newsletter.
Join me and four panelists Thursday for a virtual forum on preparing students for the new economy.
As students enter the workforce, the professional landscape is very different from what it was a few years ago. How can colleges prepare their new graduates and what role should higher education play in the post-Covid economy? At a virtual event this week, I’ll be talking about the skills, experiences, and credentials students will need to navigate the new (or last) normal. Joining me will be Edward Montgomery, president of Western Michigan University; Janes Oates, President of WorkingNation; Natasha Stough, US Campus Recruitment Manager at EY; and Luz Velazquez, graduated in 2021 from Binghamton University. register here to watch and ask questions live at 2 p.m. EST on Thursdays, or watch later on demand.
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